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Chronicling a local’s most improbable hockey career

Local writer Rachel Wallace-Oberle has seen her work published in many reputable outlets, now as part of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers she joins many other wordsmiths in sharing words of wisdom with aspiring writers. [elena maystruk / the observer]

From Sunday afternoon shinny in Floradale to representing Canada at the Olympic Games in Cortina and Squaw Valley, Floyd “Butch” Martin had a remarkable hockey career.

In Butch Martin: From the Dam to the World Stage author Del Gingrich recounts the remarkable life and career of hockey star –and Floradale native- Floyd “Butch” Martin. [Scott Barber / The Observer]
In Butch Martin: From the Dam to the World Stage author Del Gingrich recounts the remarkable life and career of hockey star –and Floradale native- Floyd “Butch” Martin. [Scott Barber / The Observer]
In Butch Martin: From the Dam to the World Stage, author Del Gingrich tells the unlikely story of “how a Mennonite boy who grew up playing shinny on the Floradale dam returned decades later carrying multiple Olympic medals.”

Gingrich, a first cousin of Martin, says the book was a labour of love.

“I have been given the opportunity to tell some of the story of my father’s nephew, my cousin, Floyd “Butch” Martin,” he writes in the book’s introduction. “I feel greatly privileged and honoured to do so. I hope that by reading this account, his daughter Kelly and grandchildren, Paul and Kristie, will understand more completely why their father and grandfather has been so highly and widely acclaimed as an outstanding athlete and man.”

A retired school principal, Gingrich now pursues his passion for the history of the Mennonite community in the Woolwich area through writing. His other titles include A Quilt of Impressions, about Mennonite children, and Kissing Bridge, which covers the history of Ontario’s last remaining covered bridge in West Montrose.

As a young man, Gingrich watched Martin play for local hockey clubs like the Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters, the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen and the Elmira Polar Kings.

He describes the impact Butch made on him in the book.

“These pages also provide an opportunity for some of us to recognize Butch’s contributions to our lives as teenagers and young adults. Butch and his brother introduced us to participation in competitive sports. They also dramatically helped broaden and enrich our somewhat limited worldview.”

It was quite unusual for a member of the Mennonite community to play sports competitively back in the 1940s and ’50s, Gingrich explained.

That’s why it was so fascinating to chart Martin’s improbable playing career.

It was a meteoric rise, too, that saw Martin jump from Junior B with the Waterloo Raiters (later, the Tigers), to the Junior A Biltmore Mad Hatters, and finally to the New York Rangers’ NHL training camp.

“In the winter of 1949, Butch’s second season with the Biltmores, The Rangers’ scouts were increasingly impressed by his play,” Gingrich writes in chapter four, ‘Great Expectations.’ “They felt his strength with the puck, good decision making, and rugged style would fit into Madison Square Garden with its smaller ice dimensions than most NHL arenas.”

While Martin signed a contract to go pro, it wasn’t to be.

The problem was, he wanted to marry his girlfriend, but her dad wouldn’t give them his blessing because he said “playing hockey was not an honourable career.”

In Chapter five, ‘Terms of Endearment,’ Gingrich lets Martin’s daughter Kelly describe discussing the decision while at a hockey game with her kids.

“‘Do you ever regret it’? I asked. Dad said, ‘I wouldn’t have you … or them.’ He was looking at Kristie and giving Paul his water bottle at the boards on the far side of the ice. ‘Now would I?’ And with that, my father hugged me, making the moment that much more memorable for me.”

Indeed, Martin is a positive thinking man, Gingrich explained, who didn’t dwell on what could have been.

It probably didn’t hurt that retaining amateur status led to his back-to-back Olympic appearances with the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen at Squaw Valley in 1956 (bronze medal) and Cortina in 1960 (silver medal).

His hockey career kept on rolling through the 1960s as well, as he skated with the Allman Cup-winning (Canada’s senior hockey championship) Galt Terriers in 1961, the Eastern Hockey League’s Johnstown Jets in 1962 and coached the Kitchener Rangers in 1964-65.

Martin, who currently lives in New Hamburg, was inducted to the Waterloo County Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Waterloo Wall of Fame in 2007.

In the hockey world, his contributions to the game are well known. Now, with this new book, Gingrich hopes more people in the Waterloo Region and especially in Woolwich Township will get to know about a hockey great from their own backyard.

Butch Martin: From the Dam to the World Stage is available in Elmira at Foodland, Read’s Decorating and Winterberry’s Design and Décor. The book can also be purchased at The Mennonite Story and the Stone Crock in St. Jacobs or at Bonnie Lou’s Café in Floradale.

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