With Martinek Down Campoli Needs To Step Up
by: Patrick Hickey, Jr. | Senior Writer - NY Sports Day | Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Many Isles fans applauded defenseman Radek Martinek when he came back the next period against the Rangers last week after he was the recipient of a high stick from Michel Nylander that required stitches above his eye. They would have applauded even louder if they knew he was skating with a broken foot at the time as well.

Because of the various bumps and bruises Martinek has suffered this season, the word “warrior” has been used quite a bit as of late when anyone on the Isles team mentions their quiet, soft-spoken Czech defenseman. While most of the NHL still has the slightest clue as to who he is, ask any teammate or coach on the Isles about him and they’d agree.

Martinek is a warrior.

"Radek has been a warrior for us, maybe our most consistent defenseman," Islanders coach Ted Nolan told the Associated Press after the injury of his broken foot was made public. "It says a lot about him that he continued to play during the Rangers game and the whole next game the next night in Ottawa because he didn't want to take himself out of the lineup. But this is the right thing for him."

“He’s been a warrior,” Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt told Newsday of Martinek. “He’s played hard. Even though he could barely see out of his eye the other night, he came back, and even [the next night in Ottawa], it was still a bit of a problem. But I give him a lot of credit for battling back. That’s what we get paid to do is battle through injuries and play injured. It’s unfortunate, a high-stick, but he understands it’s part of the game and just go back to work.”

Being able to skate with a broken foot is one thing, but Martinek’s stellar this season has been even more important to the Islanders. Easily one of the most underrated defenseman in NHL, Martinek’s play this season has been even better than his solid rookie campaign in 2001-02 that was cut short because of a knee injury and has proven that he can be a more than effective two-way defenseman in the NHL. On pace to eclipse all of his career highs, including goals, assists, points and +/-, Martinek’s month-long absence may hurt the Islanders much more than anyone thinks.

Aside from Tom Poti and Sean Hill, Martinek was the only other Islanders defenseman that was playing both on the power play and penalty kill and was playing over 20 minutes a game at the time of the injury. Now, with the season in full swing, the Islanders will have to find someone who can play both sides of the puck as well as Martinek and can provide the same jump Martinek did before he got injured.

That man is Chris Campoli.

It seems that playing in Bridgeport after suffering a groin injury in pre-season has lit a fire under the young Islanders defenseman who scored 34 points last year from the blue line, as he seems more energetic than ever before. While he only has two points since returning to the team after Alexei Zhitnik was traded a few weeks ago, Campoli has been joining the rush and has played well on both ends of the ice and is a plus-2 in eight games.

But even more surprising is just how much more aggressive Campoli has been since his return, nailing Jaromir Jagr in the first period of the Isles-Rangers game last week and getting into a scrap with Sergei Brylin in the third period of Isles-Devils game a few days ago, signaling the growth of a young defenseman into a dependable one that will do whatever it takes to give his team a chance to win.

Sounds a lot like Martinek doesn’t it?

Many feel that Campoli now understands that he needs to play with that kind of fire if he wants to stay on the team and continue to develop into a solid NHL defenseman. Despite how well the North York, Ontario native played last season, Kenny Jonsson’s decision to stay in Sweden, rather than play with the Isles was the biggest reason why the then 21-year old was summoned up to join the team. Now with a new coaching staff, Campoli has had to prove himself all over again. That may be the best thing that could have ever happened for both the Isles and Campoli.

While no one on the Islanders has downplayed Martinek’s injury and understand that they all have to step up their games in his absence, they still feel comfortable seeing a young stud like Campoli get a shot at more playing time.

“Campy is a very skilled player and good with the puck,” said Islanders defenseman Sean Hill on the Isles official website. “I think the sky's the limit for him in this league. He thinks the game well. Campy does everything well and he's only going to get better.”

With Martinek out at least four weeks, Campoli will have every opportunity to show the rest of the NHL just how true his teammates are.