Jon Martini still remembers the day. He and his wife, Denise, cried the whole way from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge to their house in Haddon Township.
Moments later, they told their son, Luke Martini, that he couldn’t play hockey anymore.
After fainting following games and trips to the emergency room, 12-year-old Luke Martini was put through tests and diagnosed with a right anomalous coronary artery — an artery that causes an abnormality inside the heart.
“It was really upsetting hearing that I wouldn’t be able to do one of the things that I loved the most,” Martini said.
But, nearly five months after Martini was told about his condition, he switched his position from defenseman to goalie, and it saved his hockey career. He’s able to play goalie because it’s not as strenuous on his heart, Jon Martini said.
Luke Martini, now a junior goalie at Cherry Hill East, helped the school win its second consecutive South Jersey High School Hockey League Tier II championship against Holy Lenape Valley. He stopped 32 of 33 shots in the 7-1 victory in March.
“That just is a proof of what type of character that he really has,” Cherry Hill East coach Scott Busler said. “It’s easy to give up when you fail because no one starts as an expert, and he didn’t. He worked through it to be one of the best goalies in the South Jersey High School League.”
Martini didn’t play hockey for about five months once his heart condition was diagnosed. The doctors told Jon Martini that his son was still able to play baseball because it’s not as tough on the heart.
Luke Martini was forced to quit wrestling and temporarily hockey because of his heart. During the months Martini didn’t play hockey, he played catcher for Haddon Township’s fall league baseball team.
As Jon Martini watched one of Luke’s games at the Haddon Township field from the bleachers, he thought of an idea for his son to be reunited with the sport he played since he was 4 years old.
“If he can [play catcher], I figured he could be a goalie,” Jon Martini said.
Once Luke Martini got cleared by doctors to return to the ice, he took lessons from John Larnerd, the goalie coach of Fusion Goalie Development at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees.
Cherry Hill East senior center Johnny Pearson said Martini is like a third defenseman on the ice because of his experience at the position.
“He sees the whole rink,” Pearson said. “He’s our eyes and ears back there.”
Despite his relative newness at the position, Martini has developed a sense of comfort in the net. It’s also nice for Busler to know that Martini will return next season, he said.
“He’s the last line of defense,” the coach said. “And to be honest with you, he’s a really good last line of defense for us.”