Player of the Month

The European Hockey.Net European Player of the Month is awarded to the player with the most oustanding performance over the course of the month

Nominations are collected at the end of each month, then a vote by the site's admin team decides the winner.

December 2006 - Martin Kariya

There are different ways to the top. Canadian Martin Kariya is taking a unique one. The 25-year old forward is currently terrorising the defences in the strong Finnish SM-Liiga whilst playing for the Espoo Blues. So far in 42 games this season, the youngest of three Kariya brothers has scored 52 points and is tied second in the league for points. Another stellar month in December, limited to just four games though, contributed for eight points. Kariya notch a quartet of goals and assists. Enough for him to be awarded the European Hockey.Net Player Of The Month award for December.

Martin Kariya
Photo: © Tommy Peltonen / Blues

When the name Kariya is mentioned, most people think of Paul Kariya. The smallish forward made a name for himself with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in which his blazing speed, soft hands and tremendous hand/eye coordination made him a scoring force in the NHL despite his size. But the Kariya-breed has proved to be a athletic one. Father Tetsuhiko (died in Vancouver on December 27, 2002) played rugby for Canada and was also a good baseball player as well as golfer, married Sharon Kariya (who is Scottish) raised five children (three boys and two girls/Michiko Joanna, Noriko, Paul, Steven and Martin) who are all gifted in sports.

Michiko went into accounting though and currently serves as the media contact for the family. Noriko played several national field hocky championships for Universit of Maine and continued a career in boxing. Steve Kariya, who played for Espoo Blues last season, currently is a high calibre player in the AHL and has been active in the NHL already. That's a thing the youngest of the five, Martin has yet to reach. Having not been drafted it is often tough for players to reach that level. Martin Kariya is taking an unusual route to get there nevertheless.

He kept a family tradition in honour by skating for the University of Maine, and was on the verge of a unique trilogy. With both Paul and Steven having won the NCAA Championship with Maine, Martin lost out on the final to Golden Gophers of Minnesota missing three brothers to have won the championship with the same team.

His junior career caught the attention of the Portland Pirates of the AHL, who offered him a sniff at a higher level during the 2002-03 playoffs. The follownig season he could only marginally build on his success with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers but 25 points from 70 games where not enough to convince the talent scouts. Avoiding being stuck in the AHL, Kariya decided to test his bloodlines. As of Japanese descent, Kariya went to Japan to play for Nikko IceBucks in the Asian League. "With connections to Japan, I'm looking forward to playing in the Asia League," said Kariya back then. "I'm sure I'll be able to learn many new things." With 18 points from 15 games, Kariya fared well against players with about the same height as his. The far-East adventure added greatly to his cultural resume, yet hockey wise he knew he had to move on in order to spur his career.

He signed a contract in Norway and soon became one of the league's hottest properties with Stjernen. The newly promoted team surprised everyone and finished second in the regular season only to miss out on a spot in the finals during the playoffs. Although no silverware was won, Kariya certainly drew attention with 65 points in 50 games. He was given the opportunity to raise its game to another level when the Espoo Blues of the Finnish top league offered him a contract. The forward signed the contract and never regretted the move. His success this season will surely have put him on the radar of some NHL teams. With the new rules in place, the size factor is not so much of a problem anymore as it was in the past. For Martin Kariya it would be a dream to play in the NHL where he could potentially meet his brothers Paul and Steve. The Kariya's all had to overcome a lot of scepticism on their way to the top, but it has given them a huge will to succeed and an indomitable competitive nature. If he manages he has proved that it is possible to reach the NHL via Japan, Norway and Finland that would be a remarkable example for many hockey players in Europe. It would show them nothing is impossible with a combination of talent and hard work.

In the meantime the University of Maine, that has seen all five Kariya's attend the university and excel in their athletic teams, has struck an exlcusive deal a couple of years ago. They secured the recruiting rights of all children of Paul, Steve and Martin. "The Kariya family has provided the university and our hockey fans with fantastic playing over the years, and we're very pleased to know that the lineage will continue," Tim Whitehead bac then interim-coach of the University told The Maine Campus. Any daughters would be recruited by the university's field hockey team. "Who wouldn't want to work hard, get a good education and play hockey for a fantastic program at the same time? You can't lose. I'd want my kids coming here," Martin Kariya admitted in the same publication.

Recruiting director Grant Standbrook had been delighted with the news as he realizes the Kariya-breed is something special. We're not going to rush any of them to have children," Standbrook said. "But we didn't win a national championship until a Kariya got here."

Related links

Martin Kariya's profile

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