New owners 'ecstatic' over shot with Spartans

by Kris Henry, Mail Tribune

Dylan Martin said Friday that he and his wife Brie still have to pinch themselves that their latest venture of purchasing the Southern Oregon Spartans has really happened.

It’s been a dream-come-true for the couple, who will celebrate their first anniversary on Aug. 18 and amazingly expect to find themselves in the Rogue Valley on that day.

On Wednesday, the Martins finalized an agreement with the Western States Hockey League and current Spartans owners Troy Irving and Forest Sexton that allows for the transition of the Tier II Junior A hockey franchise to new ownership. The official announcement came Thursday night.

“My wife and I are absolutely ecstatic about the agreement,” said Dylan Martin, reached by phone in Indiana where he has been coaching while Brie remains home in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“Our dream has always been to own and operate a franchise, me as head coach and her as president and game day events manager,” added the 27-year-old, who will serve as owner, general manager and head coach of the Spartans. “This came up and we decided to jump at it.”

(Photo by Mark Mauno)

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the total figure was considerably less than the $150,000 cost initially being sought by the Spartans’ ownership group.

“Ultimately what it came down to was Forest and I said let’s just keep hockey here,” said Irving, who was part of the initial purchasing group in 2010 that assumed the 3-year-old Rogue Valley Wranglers start-up franchise debt of $150,000 and renamed the team to the Spartans at the end of its third year.

“We’re not going to make that money back, it looked like to us that wasn’t going to happen,” added Irving. “There were no serious buyers out there. It just came down to we practically gave this away just to keep junior hockey here in the valley.”

Making such a move proved to be bittersweet for Irving and Sexton, who also had John Hanson as a partner until he recently sold his stake in the team.

“It’s been a good deal here for a lot of the kids and for the community, it’s been awesome,” said Irving of a hometown college-prep team for ages 16-20. “There’s been a history of some good players who have come through this program. About 140 players have gone on to some level of college hockey and/or professional hockey coming out of Medford.”

“At some point it ends, and it’s tough when you're doing it,” added Irving of no longer being a team owner, “but I felt after 10 years, I’m kind of losing my momentum. It was just time, it just felt right. Mainly it’s the energy, it takes a lot of work from a lot of people to run a team like this.”

Martin, who gained his first love of hockey growing up in Wisconsin, said he will be driving to Medford beginning Monday and expects his wife to join him soon after as they put roots down in Southern Oregon.

Neither can believe their fortune in landing in the Rogue Valley, especially since their plans since meeting in college in 2013 revolved around, amazingly enough, owning and running a franchise similar in fashion to the Southern Oregon Spartans.

“We actually started physically looking for a team 3-4 years ago,” said Martin. “We’re big fans of the Spartans and were going to run our team just like the Spartans have, using a business model of high fan revenues and low player tuition. That was always our plan from the get-go and we still have to pinch ourselves that we actually got this storied franchise.”

Seattle Totems general manager and head coach Mike Murphy actually played an instrumental role in putting the parties together. Knowing the Spartans had put their franchise up for sale in late April, and needing a travel partner for his team and the WSHL’s other Northwest Division programs (Bellingham Blazers and West Sound Admirals), Murphy ran into the Martins during a recruiting showcase in Las Vegas last month and everything went into hyper-speed from there.

“I definitely didn’t think that we were going to come to an agreement this year,” said Martin. “Things just kind of went a little bit faster than I anticipated, but we’re excited.”

Brie Martin was attending Dominican University and Dylan Martin was playing hockey at Robert Morris University in Chicago when they met while working together at a local hockey rink, Johnny’s Icehouse. The couple began dating, founded a charity hockey tournament at Johnny’s Icehouse that has gone on five years now, with Dylan proposing on the ice during the second year of the event.

Dylan Martin has coached with the University of New Mexico and the Midwest Blackbirds of the USPHYL after getting his own start on the ice at age 5 and gradually progressing through the junior ranks as a player. He once sought to join the Spartans as a player in 2011 but even though that didn’t wind up working out, he became a fan of the team and the area that carries over to this day.

(Photo by Mark Mauno)

Headlining this upcoming opportunity for the Martins is an ability to give back to the sport of hockey and help young men develop into prominent community contributors.

“It’s all about the kids,” said Martin. “I played junior hockey and I went on to have a successful college career and came out with multiple degrees. When I joined junior hockey, I didn’t necessarily think I was going to college, and the guidance and mentorship that I got in junior hockey really turned my life around.”

“I can’t give back enough to the junior hockey community, personally it’s just done so much for me,” he added. “We want to give back to the next generation of college-bound kids. It’s near and dear to our heart that we see as many kids as possible come to our program and go off and get college degrees and impact the community in a positive way after they’re done playing hockey.”

Southern Oregon finished third in the Northwest Division this past season at 20-31 but has maintained one of the top followings in terms of attendance for the past decade in its games at The RRRink.

“We do a good job here with our attendance,” said Irving. “Our fans are real loyal.”

“The fans here that like hockey, though, we all need to help these kids coming in and help them with sponsorships, because it’s tough. I know the Medford Rogues (summer collegiate wood-bat program) collects quite a bit of money and if we could do half as good as them, we’d be OK. But we’re not doing half as good.”

Even though his ownership days may be over, Irving said he and his hockey faithful family and friends expect to continue to turn out for Spartans games once the puck drops again in October.

“I’ll still be at a lot of games and I’ll keep that spot we have in the corner there by the beer garden,” said Irving. “We’re still going to have fun with hockey, I’m just excited that it’s staying and someone new is coming in. It’s going to be really interesting, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

It’s loyalty like that among Spartans faithful that Martin said he hopes to repay with increased success on the ice.

“Bringing a championship back to Medford is the main goal,” he said. “This town’s going to go absolutely crazy if we do that just coming from the reaction from the (purchase) announcement yesterday and the support we’ve already received from former ownership and the fan base.”