Martin Gelinas was one of many quality people (not just hockey players) who were instrumental during the early phase of the team’s courtship of its new fan base. The approachability and likability of Martin Gelinas and others like him played a huge role in the development of the initial fan base and more importantly the special and unique relationship between the team and its fan base. As a player, Gelinas was a speedy skater who played every single shift with a pace and intensity that Canes fans grew to expect and appreciate.
He joined the team via a trade from the Vancouver Canucks toward the end of the 1997-98. He finished reasonably strong with 12 goals in 40 games. But the 1998-99 season was challenging for Gelinas. Brought in to provide depth scoring, he instead saw his scoring total plummet to a meager 28 scoring points in the 1998-99 season. Things only became worse in the playoffs. In overtime in game five of the Canes first round playoff series against the Boston Bruins, he found himself wide open in front of the net and the goalie out of position only to whiff on the shot. The Bruins went on the win the game. With the series tied at 2-2, with a Gelinas’ goal and a win the Hurricanes would have been up 3-2 in the series and in the driver’s seat with two tries to win the series including a game seven at home. Things did not improve for Gelinas in the 1999-00 season. Relegated to more of a checking line role, the expected scorer’s point production was meager 30 scoring points. His struggles that season culminated with the team placing him on waivers. He went unclaimed and returned humbly to the Canes’ roster. During what was surely a challenging time personally, he said all of the right things, did not mope or complain and continued to put forward his usual high level of effort.
But ultimately Martin Gelinas’ Canes story is one headlined by perseverance and redemption not failure. After going unclaimed on waivers, Gelinas settled into a lesser role and continued to play hard. His scoring rebounded modestly in the 2000-01 season to 52 points. But more significantly, he fell into a key role for the team providing a veteran presence and speed on the wing for 20-year center Josef Vasicek who rose up to win a roster spot in the 2000-01 training camp. The duo, along with another Czech rookie in Jaroslav Svoboda, became a fixture during the 2001-02 season. Though light on scoring, the line was sound defensively and able to hold its own enabling the team’s top lines and power play to provide the scoring production to win games and make the 2001-02 playoffs. In the playoffs, the Gelinas/Vasicek/Svoboda line provided some timely scoring to go with its stellar defensive play. Martin Gelinas notched three goals and four assists in 23 games. The highlight of his playoff run was when he scored in overtime of game six of the Eastern Conference Finals versus Toronto to win the series and send the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals. After a long wait, he also gained some measure of redemption from the missed opportunity in the playoffs a few years back.
The on-ice visual of Gelinas is that of a hard-skating, hard-working speedy wing who gave all he had consistently every shift. Off ice, the visual is that of a very likable pro who helped build the special relationship between the team and its fan base.