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SECRET STRENGTH KEEPS NU HOCKEY ON ICE

Chanin Martin has the most demanding job in hockey, but her name has never appeared on the score sheet during her tenure with Niagara University.

She doesn't stop any pucks. She hasn't scored any goals for the Purple Eagles nor sacrificed her body to deliver momentum-turning hits. But she is as important to Niagara hockey as senior captains Barret Ehgoetz, Ryan Gale and Candice Moxley.

Martin is in her third season as full-time equipment manager for the men's and women's teams at NU. It's a position she earned by sacrificing and devoting hours to the men's program from 1998 to 2002 -- first as a work-study student equipment manager paying her way through school, then as an alumna who simply couldn't stay away from the program and volunteered her time, even though she worked a full day teaching at an area preschool.

While Ehgoetz, Gale and Moxley lead the Purple Eagles on the ice, they'd have a lot more to contend with if it weren't for Martin and her staff of six student assistants. They sharpen skates, do laundry, provide hockey tape for players' sticks, fill up water bottles and the water cooler, handle equipment and uniform repairs, and manage equipment inventory.

"I think it was just . . . extreme loyalty to the team, the men's team specifically," said Martin in explaining why she didn't sever ties with the program after graduating in 2000 with a bachelor's degree in elementary education. "I loved what I was doing, and I decided to continue."

In hockey, the equipment manager isn't a fancy way of referring to the water boy, or in this case the water girl. Equipment managers are almost an extension of the coaching staff and get as much respect because they play such a big role in making sure the team is prepared to play during practice and on game days.

"They make us look good out there," Moxley said.

A casual fan may scoff at the notion that Martin is as important to the hockey programs as goalies Jeff VanNynatten and Allison Rutledge. But those two wouldn't be able to glide side-to-side on the ice with relative ease if Martin didn't know how to teach her assistants the subtle differences in sharpening goalie skates compared with regular skates. In addition, each player likes his or her skates sharpened differently.

How does Martin keep everything straight?

"We have our little tricks," the 26-year-old said. "We have (the players) . . . write how they want them done on the bottom of their skates. It's a lot simpler than having to ask them every time they bring their skates back."

Before the 2000-01 season, coach Dave Burkholder was in charge of the student equipment managers. Now Martin has that responsibility and has also taken on the job of ordering equipment for the men's team.

While Martin admits ordering equipment was a big adjustment, she's gotten the hang of it. She knows to ask for "Los Angeles Kings purple" when ordering equipment that has purple as part of the color scheme. Otherwise the purple won't match the university's shade.

"She's very good at what she does. Her organizational skills, hiring and training her student helpers, she just keeps everything very smooth," Burkholder said.

Martin became student equipment manager during her junior year, when her friend left the job to focus on her studies. But she wasn't a complete stranger to the men's program when she applied for the job that has become as much a part of her life as her fiance, Terry Moore, and the preschoolers at Just for Kids in the Town Tonawanda.

The Kenmore East graduate and former Niagara Falls resident began working in the Dwyer Arena pro shop as a freshman in 1996, sharpening skates and learning the difference between a one-piece stick and a two-piece (aluminum shafts with replacement wooden blades), as well as Bauer and Easton, two different hockey equipment companies.

She teaches her staffers how to sharpen skates by having them sharpen their own skates or a borrowed pair and then skate on them. If they fall, it's back to the classroom. Along the way, she shows them how to handle equipment repairs, such as replacing stick blades on aluminum shafts.

Martin works until about 10:30 a.m. at Just for Kids and then reports for duty at Dwyer Arena, hours before the players show up for practice. It takes about 20 minutes to set up the bench for practice as she puts out water bottles, towels and rolls of tape. After practice, she and her staff see to the players' equipment needs, do laundry, then clean up the bench and locker room.

On game days, Martin arrives at the arena at 9 a.m. to set up for Niagara's pregame skate, which basically is the same as the practice routine. She also gets towels and a water cooler ready for the visiting team. She does the laundry for both teams and then gets stuff ready for the game, which includes making sure the video camera is ready to tape the action.

Martin grew up a hockey fan but never played or got involved with the game until she came to Niagara, whose men were a first-year Division I program during her freshman year.

She has been around the program so long that she has witnessed the team's biggest triumphs and its most painful defeats. She remembers when Niagara was just an up-and-coming program, struggling for respectability and name recognition. Now the Purple Eagles are a team that can beat college hockey's best on any given night.

"She wouldn't be as good at her job if she didn't love Niagara hockey," Burkholder said, "and enjoy her experiences as we've grown over our nine seasons."

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