Joel Martin was hired as coach of ECHL Kalamazoo on Monday, becoming the second current black coach of a North American men’s professional hockey team.
The 39-year-old, who has also been named director of hockey operations, has served as assistant and goalie coach for the Columbus Blue Jackets affiliate team for the past three seasons. He replaces Nick Bootland, who was hired as an assistant for Hershey, the Washington Capitals affiliate of the American Hockey League, on August 11.
Martin thanked Kalamazoo owners Bill Johnston and Ronda Stryker for “giving me the opportunity to lead this historic franchise.”
“[This] is a dream come true, and for that I want to thank the Johnston-Stryker family,” he said. “My goal is to develop young leaders and compete for a championship, because that’s what our fanbase deserves.
Prior to being hired as an assistant in 2018, Martin played 15 professional seasons as a goaltender, including nine with Kalamazoo teams that competed in the ECHL, United Hockey League and International Hockey League.
Martin, who was inducted into the ECHL Hall of Fame on Jan. 18, ranks second among goaltenders in league history with 22,962 minutes played, third with 394 appearances and fourth with 199 wins. He is also the only goalkeeper to have at least three seasons with 30 or more wins.
“Joel’s extensive experience as a professional hockey player, combined with his ability to teach and lead, will deliver excellence across our organization,” Johnston said.
“Joel has a detailed championship plan, and we’re excited to see it unfold.”
Martin joins Jason Payne as the only black coaches to lead professional teams in North America. Payne was promoted from assistant to head coach of Cincinnati, the ECHL affiliate of the Buffalo Sabers, on August 31, 2021, and in his first season he led the Cyclones to a 36-32-3-1 record. before losing in the first round of the Kelly Cup playoffs.
When Kalamazoo takes on Cincinnati on Oct. 26, it will be the first time in ECHL history that two black coaches will face off.
Both Martin and Payne are members of the NHL Coaches’ Association’s BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) program, an initiative that aims to support coaches in several areas, including skill development, leadership strategies, communication tactics and networking. Martin also participated in the Boston Bruins’ Diversity and Inclusion Mentorship Program last season.
“Joel has been a valued member since the (NHLCA) program’s inception in 2020, and we’re thrilled that Joel has earned this opportunity as Kalamazoo’s next head coach,” NHLCA President Lindsay Artkin said. “It is incredibly encouraging to see an increase in the number of BIPOC coaches being hired at the men’s professional level. It clearly demonstrates that BIPOC coaches have more opportunities to network with those who make hiring decisions, as well as a change global in the culture around hiring.”
Martin is the seventh black coach in men’s professional hockey history.
He joins Dirk Graham, who became the NHL’s first black coach when he coached the Chicago Blackhawks for 59 games in 1998-99, and John Paris Jr., who was the first to coach a professional team to a championship when Atlanta of the IHL won. the Turner Cup in 1994.
The others are Shawn Wheeler (Charlotte, ECHL, 1998-2000), Graeme Townshend (Macon, Central Hockey League 1999-2001; Greensboro, ECHL, 2001-02) and Leo Thomas (Macon, Southern Professional Hockey League, 2018-19) .
Mark Joslin was named coach of the Toronto Six of the Premier Hockey Federation, the women’s professional league, on June 11, 2021.
Martin’s hiring as director of hockey operations is also the most recent of a black person in key management positions in professional hockey.
The San Jose Sharks hired former NHL forward Mike Grier as the first black general manager in league history on July 5. This came after the Tampa Bay Lightning hired Mark Pitts, a former Coca-Cola Beverages Florida executive, as chief operating officer on Dec. 17, 2021.
Prior to that, the Los Angeles Kings named former Western Hockey League forward Vukie Mpofu as director of hockey operations and legal affairs on May 28, 2021, and the Florida Panthers hired the former hockey agent Brett Peterson as assistant general manager on November 17, 2020.