Reporting John Lauritsen
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The goalie for the Minneapolis Storm hockey team is quick, fast, and up until October she had never put on a pair of ice skates.
“I wanted to go to my brother’s hockey game and I kept going to my brother’s hockey games. And I told my dad that I wanted to play hockey,” said 13-year-old Martu Zabinski.
Martu’s journey to the goalie crease was a long one. She was born in war-torn Liberia.
“It was kind of dangerous. When me and my mom would be walking around, we would see people shooting guns so we would have to hide and stuff,” said Martu.
Five years ago, when Martu was 8, she and her brother were adopted by Jon Zabinski and his family. They left an orphanage in Liberia, and left behind the tropical African climate.
“They came in March of 2008 in the middle of a nasty snowstorm. They flew into Chicago and got off the plane and were immediately in a blizzard,” said dad, Jon Zabinksi.
But Martu quickly learned to fit in. She gravitated towards sports- trying and succeeding at basketball, softball, soccer, and dance. But most of all, she wanted to take a shot at hockey. So last fall, Martu joined the Minneapolis Storm U-12 team.
“It didn’t take that long. She got up to speed real fast with the team,” said Jon.
Surprisingly fast. She tried playing forward at first, but the team needed something more.
“We didn’t have a goalie to start the season. That’s always a challenge. Kind of like having a baseball team without a pitcher or a football team without a kicker,” said coach Dan Brooks.
Brooks is also the son of legendary hockey coach Herb Brooks. And like his father, he has an eye for hidden skills. Knowing he needed a goalie, something in Martu caught his eye.
“One of the practices I skate over and she’s doing the splits — the long way. And I went- this is kind of interesting,” said Brooks.
So she put on the goalie pads and face mask. And at first, it was a little shaky. But after just a few games Martu started to shut teams down. And her competitive side started to show. There was even a signature moment.
“She reached out with her glove hand and another girl came up and slashed her hand. And she got up and got right in her grill. I looked at one of our other coaches and I said, ‘she arrived.’ She is a goalie,” said Brooks.
“I wasn’t really scared. Not at all,” said Martu.
That makes perfect sense considering how far Martu has come. There are about 100 hockey rinks total on the entire African continent. None of them are with even a thousand miles of where she was born. There are about 100 hockey rinks within a 5 miles radius of where she lives now. And Martu is taking full advantage.
“I’ve already forwarded her information to the Benilde girls coach. He’s a good friend of mine. I told him, ‘keep your eye on this girl,’” said Brooks.
On Wednesday night, with her family in the stands, Martu and her teammates skated to a tie. But their chemistry continues to grow every time Martu steps into the crease.
“She keeps everybody loose, great sense of humor. Girls love her and she is always smiling. That’s very important for team building to have a popular, well-liked kid. And she’s definitely a leader,” said Brooks.
“She can shoot for the stars. Works very hard. She takes school work seriously and I see nothing but good things for her,” said Jon.