For many years in the 1960’s, Trail’s Seth Martin was regarded as the world’s best amateur goalie. At a time when senior amateur hockey possessed a relatively strong following and top teams served as Canada’s representative in international competition, Martin evolved to become a household name in Europe and Russia even though he was a relative unknown in Canada outside of B.C.

Born in Rossland, B.C, Martin played minor hockey in Rossland before joining the Junior A Lethbridge Native Sons in 1949. Graduating from Junior in 1952, Martin came home to join the Trail Smoke Eaters of Western International Hockey League.

Between 1952 and 1973, Martin was a pillar of strength with Trail, Rossland, and Spokane of the WIHL. He was named the league’s top goalkeeper nine times, more than double that of the league’s next most honoured goalie. He backstopped the famous 1961 world champion Trail Smoke Eaters and led two teams—Trail in 1962 and Spokane in 1970—to the Allan Cup, emblematic of the best amateur team in the country. He was simply the best goalie in league history, a history that goes back to the First World War.

Martin had several offers to play in the NHL but none bettered the security he had with his job at Cominco in Trail. However in 1967 at age 34 after fifteen years as one of the world’s best amateurs, Martin accepted an offer from the NHL’s St. Louis Blues for whom he shared duties with the great Glenn Hall. In thirty games Martin recorded a 2.59 goals average playing for the Blues just one season (the year the Blues reached the Stanley Cup final) before returning to Trail and the Smokies.

Back in the W.I.H.L., Martin continued his stellar play winning a second Allan Cup in 1970, the same year he was the league’s leading netminder. Martin then turned his attention to coaching in the W.I.H.L. guiding the Smoke Eaters for four years and Spokane for two including coaching Spokane to a 1972 Allan Cup.

However Martin’s fame really emanated from the fact that as Canada’s number one goalie at the amateur level he was several times selected to play for Canada’s representative domestically and internationally. He was named the outstanding goalkeeper at four World Championship tournaments (1961,’63,’64 and’66), including being instrumental to the Smoke Eaters’ 1961 world title.

He was selected to the All-World All-Star team three times including the 1964 Olympics when he tended goal for Canada’s team, coached by Father David Bauer. As an Olympian, Martin recorded a 4-1-0 record with a 1.21 goals against average earning All-Star goalkeeper honours.

“Martin’s heroics are recalled with particulars reverence by European fans who watched him,” writes Murray Greig in his book Trail on Ice. “For years afterwards the Soviets regarded him as something of a goaltending wizard. Coach Father Bauer recalled that the Europeans thought he was invincible. His very presence was enough to psych out the opposition.

According to Murray Costello, who served as president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, “The name that comes up more than any others when people talk about the great old days of international hockey is Seth Martin. They’ve never forgotten him.” In 1997, Martin was also inaugural inductee in the International Hockey Hall of Fame joining the likes of Vladislav Tretiak, Anders Hedberg and Vaclav Nedomansky. Seth was one of only two Canadian charter members inducted as players, Harry Sinden the other. Martin himself recalls a special moment at this IIHF Hall of Fame ceremony when, Tretiak, the famous Russian goalie, threw a big bear hug around him, continually announcing, “Martin, you are my idol!”

In Trail on Ice, Greig points out that “besides stellar goaltending Martin established a reputation as an innovative designer and builder of masks…to the point where the Russians were anxious to sample his expertise.” Martin, the goaltender and Cominco fireman, was the first to introduce the goalie mask internationally when he wore his own creation at the 1961 World Championships.

Written and researched by Fred Hume for the BC Sports Hall of Fame.