Photo by Rena Laverty
Liam Gilmartin had plenty of opportunities and different choices when he was growing up, but somehow, hockey always had a pull for him.
“I started playing hockey when I was 4 years old,” said Gilmartin, from Falls Church, Virginia. “My parents thought it was important to be involved in sports. I also played lacrosse, football, baseball, basketball, tennis, soccer, track and field and I swam until I was 11. I chose hockey because I liked it the most, but I would still try and play four or five sports even with hockey.
“Hockey was just different. I really didn’t like to be outside in the heat and the rink was cold. I grew up watching the Washington Capitals. We had season tickets and I always wanted to be one of [the players]. It’s very cool to have the opportunities that I have now which will hopefully help me reach my goal.”
One of those opportunities was getting to meet his favorite Caps player — Alexander Ovechkin. Gilmartin still remembers the details of that day, even though he was too nervous to speak to the future Hall of Famer.
“One of my highlights came when I was 7 and I got my picture and an autograph from Ovechkin,” explained Gilmartin. “He just signed a piece of paper for me. I just remember that I was shaking and I felt like I was talking to Santa Claus. I remember being so nervous that I couldn’t even say anything to him. I still remember that moment to this day.”
Besides the Capitals, Gilmartin had two other influences when it came to his hockey career, his brother, Conner, and his dad, Bob. Conner played hockey for the Johnstown Tomahawks (NAHL) and the Washington Jr. Nationals (MetJHL) before joining the military.
“My brother is 10 years older and I would always look up to him,” Gilmartin said. “I would go watch his hockey games. He was definitely feisty and liked to get into fights. He would still help me out, especially in the backyard where we would shoot pucks. He would make me do it, even if I didn’t want to do it at the time. He definitely made me tougher. He didn’t hold back at all.”
Dad, Bob, helped fuel Gilmartin’s competitive nature and was actually a two-sport athlete at West Point. It was his influence that helped Gilmartin settle on lacrosse as his second favorite sport.
“My dad played hockey at West Point in his freshman and sophomore years,” explained Gilmartin. “He switched to lacrosse his junior and senior years, earning All-American honors as a senior. He had never played lacrosse prior to that so that is pretty cool.
Liam and Alex Ovechkin (Photo from Gilmartin Family)
“I think it’s a big reason why I played lacrosse as a second sport, growing up. I’m super competitive. Hockey has definitely helped me with lacrosse. It’s really how I play. I keep the ball on the ground instead of in the air, since I play with a long stick. The hand-eye coordination is very important so it is similar to hockey in that way. If I wasn’t playing hockey, I would definitely try and play lacrosse in college. This is my first year that I haven’t played lacrosse.”
For Gilmartin, earning a spot on USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program was a dream come true. It carries a special place in his heart to play for his country.
“I was at tryout camp with my parents when I got the offer,” he said. “It was extra meaningful to me. I come from a huge military background, with my parents, my aunts, my uncles and my grandparents. We have a Medal of Honor recipient on my dad’s side, so it is super meaningful to me to play for the country.
Photo by Rena Laverty
“My mom served 27 years in the military. My dad was an army ranger and served 25 years. He now does civilian work at the Pentagon for the military. My brother enlisted in the Coast Guard for the last three years, but he will join the Army OCS [Army Officer Cadet School] this summer, as he wants to do more to serve the country.”
For Gilmartin, playing hockey and wearing the USA jersey is his way of representing his country.
“Even though I’m not in the military, I still wanted to represent my country,” said Gilmartin. “This isn’t close but it’s still a way to represent with something that I love. When I got the invite, I think I smiled for five days. It was a dream come true for me.
“The USA jersey for me is so very special. It’s so cool to see the fans’ reactions when you wear the jersey. To hear the national anthem, when you are lined up at the blue line, it is a feeling that you just can’t describe. It gives me chills.”
It should come as no surprise that one of his favorite moments from his Under-17 year came during international play, a 6-0 win over Russia on Dec. 17 in Kazan.
“We lost to Russia the first time we faced them in Medicine Hat [Alberta] at the U17 World Challenge,” Gilmartin said. “I think we wanted this game and we knew what we had to do to get the win.”
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound forward has relied on practices and his teammates on improving his game, each and every day on the ice. It’s been the little things that are making all the difference for him.
“My skating definitely improved,” said Gilmartin, who tallied 10 goals and 15 points this season. “I wasn’t the best skater when I came here but you have to play at such a high level and you are playing with your teammates, you will get better. I have to be faster, especially in practice so I can be ready for games.
“I really like the corner battles, the competition against the wall. It’s super fun. Someone is always trying to beat you 1-on-1. You have to figure out how to defend them.”
Photo by Rena Laverty
The philosophy of the NTDP coaches really hits home for Gilmartin. It might be part of his military upbringing that helps him connect to the lessons he learns from the NTDP U17 coaching staff.
“One philosophy that they really passed on is it is all about the details,” Gilmartin said. “You have to be perfect. You need to take care of the little things in order to be successful. It really puts things into perspective, especially with how I was raised. I always had a routine schedule. For instance, my parents made me make my bed before school. They always preached that without details, you will not get anywhere. That really reflects in what we are learning at the NTDP.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.