By Joanne Ireland, Edmonton Journal
Oklahoma City – When Ryan Martindale found himself veering off to Stockton, Calif., rather than Oklahoma City last year, he realized he had some some work to do.
Work he did. He worked on his game during the ECHL season with the Thunder, then in the off-season found a new trainer and worked on his body.
The result? A shot at an opening day roster spot with the American Hockey League’s Oklahoma City Barons.
Martindale, a third-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2010, was one of the 16 forwards left when the Barons returned to the ice on Monday.
“I came into camp with the mindset that I was determined to make it. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me,” he said on Monday after skating with Tyler Pitlick and Josh Green.
“Last year my goal was to come in and play for Oklahoma. (Stockton) definitely wasn’t at the top of my list last year of places to play, but going down there really made me realize how much I wanted it. And I went into this summer determined to improve all aspects of my game.
“I just wanted to get to camp and make an impact, show them that I was able to play, that I was ready to play. I have a lot of energy now and I’m moving a lot faster.”
Martindale, who turns 21 on Oct. 27, spent four seasons with the Ottawa 67’s in the Ontario Hockey League. In his final season, he was playing on a line with Tyler Toffoli (a second-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2010) and Shane Prince (the Ottawa Senators’ second-rounder in 2011), and put up 83 points.
After signing his entry level deal with the Oilers, the six-foot-three, 207-pound Martindale played 34 games with the Thunder, scoring 15 points. It was time well spent, said Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini.
“Ryan Martindale centred one of the top lines in junior hockey in his final year, came in and had a good training camp with the Oilers, and he had a good training camp with the Barons, but there wasn’t a spot for him,” said Tambellini.
“Now players can go two ways when that happens. They can sit there and sulk and say this isn’t working out, or they can get through the season and put the work in like he did. He basically changed his body. He looks more like a pro player. That’s as much focus as I’ve seen in his game than I’ve seen in a long time.
“That’s what you’re looking for,” Tambellini continued. “It’s hard. It’s emotionally hard for a player (to go down), but everybody goes through hard situations, but what are you going to do to get better?”
Oklahoma City head coach Todd Nelson agreed. He said Martindale arrived in training camp with a much leaner frame and a more determined mindset.
Kristians Pelss, like Martindale, did enough to stay with the Barons while Philippe Cornet was sent down to Stockton. The Latvian winger, a seventh-round pick in 2010, spent two Western Hockey League seasons with the Edmonton Oil Kings, popping in 14 goals as a rookie and then 28 last season, when the team went to the Memorial Cup.
“I like that I’m going to stay here. I was a little worried about coming here. It’s professional. It’s a different league,” said Pelss, 20. “But I worked hard and everything is good. I do know everything is much faster, everyone is much stronger, but I just have to listen to the coach and work hard.”
“He earned the right to be here,” said Nelson. “Same thing for Martindale. He had a strong camp and you have to take care of those guys when they do well.”