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Influenced by the Game

By Jawad Beg

Game Program, November 14, 2003

Off-season - what is that? For Nathan Marsters, hockey is life. Donning a hat with a hockey stick and a Toronto Maple Leafs t-shirt, Marsters joked after a recent practice, "It's about all you can do in Canada."

The 6'4" netminder, now in his fourth and final year on the Rensselaer squad, has been influenced by hockey all his life. "I started watching because my dad was a hockey fan and the whole family loved hockey." He admitted, though, that he was not forced to play the game by his parents but rather took it up based on his own keen interest of the game. Along with hockey, he began to play baseball and soccer, but it became apparent to him that he enjoyed the former the most. "When I started playing, I played whenever I could. I played road hockey when I wasn't on the ice. It's about all I did." The Grimsby, Ontario native ("it's just like anywhere else in Canada"), however, did not play between the pipes at first. He recalled with a smile, "I was a forward my first practice but I got traded - in minor hockey - to another team and they put me in net. They needed a goalie and I've been in net ever since."

Through elementary school and middle school, Marsters played during the normal winter season and also participated in the summer with camps. He acknowledged that in high school when he became more serious with hockey, his grades "began to dip" due to lack of focus upon them. It was during this time that Marsters began to play in the Canadian junior hockey leagues. "It was the natural progression - you play pee-wee, then midget, and after you play midget you either play junior or you just stop playing."

Unsurprisingly, the competition was also boosted a notch - even within the team. "You always have competition, whether you think you do or not. Someone's always ready to jump in to take your spot," Marsters said, referring to gaining the starting role on the squad. He emphasized controlling the game, handling rebounds and not letting in soft goals were some of the aspects of his game he focused on. That helped his coach start him in most of the games for the Chilliwack Chiefs.

During his second year in the junior league, Marsters began to seriously think over his future within the game. "At the time I was too old to go to the OHL (Ontario Hockey League), so school was the way to go if I wanted to continue playing. There aren't NHL aspirations while in junior hockey." It was during this time in which Rensselaer began to approach Marsters for a possible spot on the school's Division I team. "I didn't really know anything about the school, or the team, or even what the team name and colors were." Bill Cahill, a men's hockey assistant coach at the time, recruited Marsters and began to tell him of the school's rich hockey program and valuable educational opportunities. Marsters was pleased to hear about the school and the question of his future in hockey seemed to have been answered. "Clarkson was also offering, but this place seemed like a better fit. It seemed like the place for me." Rensselaer's academic standing was also a major influence for his decision.

Unbeknownst to him at the time of agreement, Marsters did not know Rensselaer was approaching current roommate, classmate, and goaltender Kevin Kurk as well. "I actually played against Kevin and I found out almost a month later that he was coming here too."

As for any hints of a pre-Rensselaer rivalry between the two, surprisingly both weren't out for blood beforehand. "I think the game was 0-0, the one where we played against each other," Kurk recollected. "We weren't out to sabotage each other."

"Yeah, it was a pretty healthy rivalry," Marsters added.

Out of school for a year, Marsters' transition into Rensselaer wasn't as smooth as he hoped it would be. "My first two years, academically, I didn't do as well as I would have liked. It took me a while to adjust as far as going to class every day and doing the homework all night because before, I just sat around and played hockey." Marsters decided to pursue a management degree through Rensselaer's prestigious Lally School of Management & Technology. Honestly speaking, Marsters admitted that engineering would have been a little too. "From what I see Scott [Romfo] and Brad [Farynuk] going through now, I think it would have been too much and I don't know if I would have coped with it," he said.

Marsters' transition into Rensselaer on the ice as a freshman was a completely different story. Aside from being drafted by the NHL's Los Angeles Kings (5th round, 165th overall) a few months after accepting Rensselaer's offer, he garnered the ECAC Rookie of the Week Award on numerous occasions, notched the ECAC Goaltender of the Week several times, had four shutouts, was named the team's most valuable player, and topped it off with a spot on the ECAC All-Rookie Team. Even with an impressive resume, Marsters is not affected by it at all. He admitted that it's nice but, allowing the accomplishments to get to one's head hinders, rather than progresses. "Once he hits the ice, he's all business," said senior captain Ben Barr.

Fellow teammates began to take notice of Marsters' special pre-game rituals in adhering to his focus. Mikael Hammarstrom, a classmate, said, "On game days he is in his own little world. He's very superstitious and does certain things the same way every time. We're fine with all the routines and habits as long as it keeps him focused on the game."

"I'd be here too long if I had to list them all," Marsters said, lightheartedly, of his superstitions. Of the few he did reveal, he goes "left with everything" in terms of putting his equipment on, he takes a nap ("not too long, not too short"), takes a cold shower and tries to squeeze in a chicken fettuccine alfredo meal whenever he gets the chance.

With all the pre-game festivities accounted for, the performance on ice is the only factor that matters most. In his sophomore year, Marsters captured 15 wins, recorded a 2.55 goals against average (fourth best in school history) and helped lead the team to the ECAC Championships in Lake Placid. With a defeat to top-seeded Cornell in the semi-finals, the team's playoff run came to an abrupt end. "Sometimes you dwell on losing but you shouldn't," he said. "If you lose, you just learn from it and then forget about it. It's in the past. You can't do anything about it so why worry about it?"

For skills in general, he's not afraid to admit his faults and is always willing to learn - whether it's from observing Kurk or from watching rival goaltenders. "You learn from every goalie you've ever played with." He also learns from the skaters.

"Sometimes he'll ask me for pointers," said Hammarstrom. "If I score on him he may ask if he was out of position or what ways he left himself vulnerable. He's not afraid to ask for help and he's looking for ways to improve all the time. He gives me pointers as well, so it works both ways."

Startlingly, both Marsters and Kurk have lived with one another the past three seasons. One would think that living with the competition is a bit odd, but one would be thinking wrong in this case. "It's like clockwork," Marsters quipped, on his friendship with Kurk. "You play hockey at the rink and that's where we keep it. Away from the rink, we're pretty similar in the stuff that we do and like to do. There are never any arguments about what to do, what we're doing, or even what to eat."

Kurk concurred. "Yeah, I think it's great. We're not at each other's throat or whatever. I don't think we've ever gotten into an argument. It's pretty easy going. We never bring what's at the rink home."

"Being roommates and such good friends - I think they are able to help each other both on and off the ice," observed Barr.

As trite as it may seem, Nathan said that he's always glad to be here whether it's a game day or not, win or loss. The Big Red Freakout! comeback victories in 2002 and last season, the trip to Lake Placid for the ECAC Championships two seasons ago, and defeating Union in the first round of the ECAC Championships last season, though, are a few of his favorite moments.

He has been generally pleased with the team and team's performance over the past few seasons. "The first two years we had the advantage of two All-Americans with us (Matt Murley '02 and Marc Cavosie '03) which is always a benefit. I'd be lying if I said we didn't miss those two guys last year. I thought we played well in a lot of hockey games. I didn't think we had a lot of bounces go our way, but that's the thing, you just have to learn how to adapt."

Even with scouts in the stands, Marsters still remains focused on the game at hand, nothing more or less. He has gotten stronger physically and is more used to the speed of the game and the way the players shoot. "When I first got on campus I thought that everyone shot hard but now it seems like only a few guys can."

Most of the time, he doesn't even know if the L.A. Kings' scouts are present, diminishing any thoughts of pressure. "You can't worry about things like that. It's like saying that your dad is watching you and you're going to feel pressure or your girlfriend is coming and you're going to feel pressure. When you play, you don't know who's in the stands or care who's in the stands. You just play."

While not worrying about specific people in the stands, the fans in general are obviously hard to ignore. Marsters firmly believes that at times the fans are the seventh player on the ice, whether it's in favor of the home team or visiting team. He cited the Big Red Freakout! in 2002 as a moment where fan support snowballed and helped the team out greatly.

Nonetheless, there are other moments where it's difficult to fully concentrate upon entering the rink. With the untimely deaths of Bill Cahill and Tom Cavosie this past summer, the Rensselaer community, especially the hockey programs, was at a severe loss.

"There's not a day that goes by when I don't think of them or remember them," he reflected. "They were both great guys - always smiling and fun to joke around with. You miss them every day. 'BC' was the guy who got me here so it's kind of weird not having him around."

With the affluence of hockey in his life (he still continues to play over the summer), it's very easy for Marsters to remember such events and people in his life. Additionally, it always keeps him attentive on his future with the sport. "If people want me to play [professionally], then it'll be worth my while and I'll try to play for a little while. After that maybe I'll go do something with my degree, have a family, have some kids, you know, live the American," he paused with a smile, "slash Canadian dream."