Phélix Martineau’s unique hockey path has led him exactly where he wants to be

Phélix Martineau of the Concordia Stingers, 2022. MARIA BOUABDO / THE CONCORDIAN

Martineau’s leadership shone through in his first year playing with the Stingers’ men’s hockey team

Phélix Martineau started playing hockey at six years old. Growing up, he was never the flashiest or biggest guy on the ice. He had to work hard to make the teams, always taking it one year at a time. Martineau had never imagined that he’d get drafted into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), much less that he’d be playing professional hockey. But then it happened.

Right before he was first supposed to join the Concordia Stingers in 2018, he had the chance to play in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) after his season with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the QMJHL ended.

He played three regular-season games with the Fort Wayne Komets, who were the Montreal Canadiens’ ECHL affiliate at the time, and then went on a playoff run with them to the conference final. His impressive play in Fort Wayne, Indiana, earned him a contract with the Laval Rocket for the 2018-19 campaign, which would delay his start at Concordia until 2019.

With none of this being planned, it was a challenging year for the up-and-comer.

“I don’t think I was mature enough to manage it all,” Martineau said. “I never thought that I’d play there one day, so once I was there, it was all new and I wasn’t mentally ready to face it, so it was a tough year mentally.”

He had the opportunity to leave the American Hockey League (AHL) and go to Concordia for the 2019 winter semester but ultimately decided against it, delaying his start there until the fall.

“When I had to make that decision, it was around Christmas, I was playing with the Rocket and it was going very well, I was playing a lot,” he said. “But then after that, it wasn’t going as well. So the following summer I decided to go back to school.”

The uncertainty and lack of stability made it a difficult year for the centre. And with that uncertainty came an aspect of the game that he didn’t like — the business part of professional sports — especially at such a young age.

“I wasn’t happy playing professional hockey,” he said. “It’s really a business. Coming from juniors, all the guys are together all year, no one is battling to re-sign for a better contract, so that aspect of it wasn’t as fun.”

If he or one of his teammates would have one off day, one bad practice, they could get scratched or sent down. This made opportunities to crack the lineup and maintain the spot very difficult. But battling with his own teammates every day, or taking someone’s injury as an opportunity wasn’t something he enjoyed.

“But now, I have the experience of going through that, and I plan on going back with a completely different mindset,” Martineau said, thinking ahead.

Now the captain of the Stingers’ men’s hockey team, the 25-year-old couldn’t be happier with where he is and everything he has learned during his journey.

Having played professionally before going to university, Martineau had to take a year off from hockey in 2019-20. The following 2020-21 season was cancelled by U Sports because of COVID-19.

After two years of no play, Martineau finally got to wear the Stingers’ uniform in October 2021. Things, however, weren’t completely back to normal, with a two-month shutdown starting in December and a few cancelled games at the end of the season. This made it harder for Martineau to get his groove back.

“Every time I got momentum and started to get going, something happened,” he said. “So then I had to wait until February to pick up my game again, and I think it showed physically that I hadn’t played for two years. I would’ve needed more time to get back into it but it’s all part of the game.”

During such a difficult year, Martineau’s leadership and positive perspective didn’t go unnoticed by his teammates.

“With playing pro, you learn that you only control what you can control,” Martineau said. “There are things you can’t control in life and even if myself, as captain of the team, I’m disappointed or pissed about something, you can’t let it show, and it even helped me have a different mindset on things, but it wasn’t easy on anyone.”

Maxim Trépanier, a fellow Stingers player, acknowledged how hard it must have been for Martineau to join the team during the COVID year.

“That’s also what’s the most impressive about him, he’s always had a positive attitude throughout these two years, and it really helped us get through this season,” Trépanier said. “When we needed to talk to him, he’d always be here to listen… it’s really his human side with the guys and his leadership.”

Stingers’ head coach Marc-André Elément recognizes Martineau as very professional in his approach as a teammate and captain.

“It was his first year in our league, but also his first year as captain,” Elément said. “And it’s probably the first time a guy joins like that. Just the way he approaches everything, his work ethic on the ice, in the gym, everywhere. He’s a really good leader.”

According to Elément, the decision to name Martineau captain was pretty easy considering he was previously captain in junior and had professional experience.

Something that Martineau lives by as captain goes back to what his former coach, Marc-André Dumont, told him during his time in Cape Breton: “to lead is to serve.”

“If you’re always making sure your teammates are at their best every day, you’ll be better and the team will be better,” he said. “For me, to be captain isn’t a privilege, but a responsibility. Whether there’s a ‘C’ on my jersey or there’s no letter, I would act the same way.”

Other than playing hockey and being captain, Martineau also studies industrial engineering.

After doing his CEGEP online in Cape Breton, returning to in-person courses was a challenge. And with no hockey, the first couple of years were even more difficult. However, after his taxing year travelling between Laval and Fort Wayne, he’s ultimately grateful for this forced break from the sport.

“Mentally when it came to hockey, I didn’t know if I still liked hockey,” he admitted. “It was a really tough year mentally. I would’ve liked to play the following year, but when I started playing games again, I realized that hockey is what I love doing.”

While he looks forward to going back to playing hockey professionally after graduation, his main priority at the moment is to graduate from school and have his degree in his back pocket.

“I came to university to play hockey, yes, but also to get a degree,” Martineau said. “So I made a decision based on my education. I want to finish school and then not have it on my mind and focus on hockey.”

For now, with pre-season in full swing and the regular season starting on Oct. 15, Martineau is looking forward to playing as many games as possible.

“We know we have a good team and we’re going for it all,” he said. “Anything less than a championship will be a disappointment.”

His plan for after graduation is to play in the ECHL or AHL, see how it goes for a couple of years, and maybe play in Europe for a few years if that offers him more stability. But with the Canadiens’ new ECHL affiliate in Trois-Rivières, alternating between playing for the Rocket and Lions wouldn’t be so bad.

Martineau also said his degree would come in handy when he decides that he’s done playing hockey and is looking to settle down.

“I’m not 18 anymore, if I meet someone and it goes well and I want to have a family, I’m going to have to make different decisions,” he concluded.

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