Belmont Hill's Martin is first to 700

BELMONT, Mass. -- Belmont Hill boys’ hockey head coach Ken Martin isn’t in the business of numbers. He derives more pleasure from seeing his players succeed than in reveling in any of his 700 (and counting) career wins.

“My philosophy has always been trying to help each kid reach his full potential,” Martin said. “The most exciting thing for me, as a coach, is to see a role player score a big goal in a big game, or seeing kids contribute in the little things that help a team win.”

He knows the pitfalls of numbers and looking forward to certain benchmarks, evidenced by the recent run up to No. 700. Martin was stuck on 696 wins for a couple weeks as the Hillies endured a five-game stretch last month when they salvaged just one win. However, the 39-year head coach of Belmont Hill was finally able to celebrate his 700th victory with a 7-1 win at Phillips Andover on Saturday, becoming the first hockey coach in Massachusetts history to do so.

When pressed to recollect his favorite of the multitudes of wins over the years, Martin responded with a photo album’s worth of memories. There was the memorable comeback against St. Sebastian’s in a truly special outdoor game at Fenway Park last year before the NHL Winter Classic. He also recalled Belmont Hill’s triple-overtime thriller against Phillips Exeter a few years back.

“I also remember the losses, too,” added Martin, a 1965 graduate of the school.

However, for the all of the hubbub surrounding his impending milestone, there was another claim of notoriety to which Martin was unaware. With win No. 696, Martin became the Bay State’s all-time winningest hockey coach, surpassing the career mark of retired Arlington High head coach Ed Burns. Martin was made aware of the event through legendary Matignon head coach Marty Pierce.

Perhaps more than his 700th, Martin acknowledged the significance of passing Burns in respect for the Spy Ponders bench boss who has also calls a friend.

“I’ve gotten to know Coach Burns over the years and we’ve done some hockey camps together,” Martin said. “Being in his company is pretty special in the world of Massachusetts hockey. That’s a real honor.”

Martin, who took over at Belmont Hill in 1972, has built the program with a keen eye for detail. Every movement is scrutinized in practice and that ethos has helped 17 of his players have their names called in the NHL Draft straight out of high school. That list includes Martin’s son, Ken IV, who was selected by the Buffalo Sabres in 1990. He could have another player join those ranks before long in junior winger Jimmy Vesey, a Harvard commit and son of the Charlestown hockey hero of the same name, who’s ranked 84th among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings.

“He’s very meticulous in his preparation for practices and games,” senior captain Michael McNamara said. “He always says that perfect practice makes perfect and he always knows how to say the right things before a game to get us going.”

The Holy Cross commit and teammates know Martin’s thoroughness has been a driving force behind his rise to the state hockey pantheon. And No. 700 was no different.

“Even during the Andover game, we were up big, but he kept us going till the very end,” senior captain Brandon McNally said. “He gets us motivated and keeps us focused on a daily basis and he always keeps us positive.”

Martin has since raked up win No. 702 and Belmont Hill stands at 15-6-2 among the top teams in the ISL’s Keller Division.

Already at the top of the hill, the only remaining question is what Martin’s final number will be.

“Well, I can say that I’ll at least be coaching until the end of the season,” Martin said, letting out a chuckle. “After the season, like any season, I’ll reevaluate where I’m at and discuss it with my wife. But even if I stopped coaching at the varsity level, I’d still like to coach little kids and stay involved in the game.

“I’ve been doing this for 39 years, so it would be strange to be without it.”