by Sally McCay
a little weird,to be honest.
Martin St. Louis reflects on life after the Stanley
the MVP, and having ones name uttered
in the same sentence with Wayne Gretzkys.
by Thomas Weaver
Just for fun, lets count the ways a screenwriter could pitch a
Hollywood studio with a movie concept called something like Une Belle
Saison: The Martin St. Louis Story.
Hes the against-all-odds little guy in a big guys game.
The discarded pro who battles for a championship against the organization
that cut him loose. The old teammate reunited with his longtime pal
in the final weeks of a dream season. The injured athlete who takes
a badly broken leg as a challenge to build himself stronger. Wait, theres
more. The loyal friend who, in the midst of a playoff run, dedicates
his games to a childhood buddy who just died of cancer. The player overlooked
in the NHL draft who, seven years later, takes the leagues most
valuable player awards.
Combined, the elements of Martin St. Louiss 2003-2004 season could
rival Miracle as a paean to overachievers on two blades. But
just as the tale of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team didnt require
much Disneyfication, so the St. Louis story stands on its own.
If theres one place where the various plotlines intersect and
capture both character and story, its in the Tampa Bay Lightnings
clubhouse last December. Coach John Tortorella was concerned that the
team was beginning to backslide after stepping up in the previous season
to win a round in the playoffs, significant progress for a long-somnolent
franchise. Tortorella called together several of his top players and
urged them to start making key plays at key moments, the sorts of efforts
that often spell the difference between a win and a loss.
St. Louis was among the handful on the receiving end of Tortorellas
talk, something between a chewing out and tough love. Ten minutes later,
St. Louis was the first to knock on the coachs door to accept
the challenge. He told Tortorella, in essence, Give me the puck.
St. Louis asked the coach to put him in the game during power plays,
the last minute of periods, on offensive zone face-offs. Game
breaking times, he said.
Long impressed by St. Louiss mental toughness, Tortorella took
his player up on the offer. That was arguably the move that made the
Lightning and St. Louiss season take off and not come back to
Earth until Tampa Bay took the Stanley Cup and their fast-rising star
notched two most valuable player nods, one from sportswriters and one
from his fellow players in the NHL.
Theres no trophy case in the South Burlington duplex where Martin
and Heather St. Louis and their toddler son, Ryan, live during the off-season.
So, the 2004 Lester B. Pearson Trophy, which goes to the National Hockey
Leagues outstanding player as voted by his peers, has a spot on
the dining room table along with the last few days mail, Martys
tins of Skoal, and Ryans little plastic tub of Cheerios and sippy
The two-foot-tall prize of bronze and lacquered wood looks a bit out
of place amidst the stuff of family life. St. Louis would be the first
to admit that seeing his name engraved next to the likes of Phil Esposito,
Guy LaFleur, and Mario Lemeiux takes some getting used to, as well.
He points to one panel of names and says, Gretzky owns this one.
82, 83, 84, 85, 87.
Its not the first time St. Louis and Canadas greatest hockey
hero have shared space this season. St. Louis earned back-to-back NHL
Player of the Month awards this year, the first since Wayne Gretzky
to earn the honor in consecutive months. When a reporter asked him what
it was like being mentioned together with The Great One,
St. Louis said, Its a little weird, to be honest.
Theres been a fair amount of weirdness to get used to in St. Louiss
life lately, albeit weirdness of the wouldnt trade it for the
world, lifetime dream sort. July 29 marked a prime case in point. The
Stanley Cup traditionally travels the world in the summer after the
championship, spending a day with each member of the winning team. The
many-tiered silver grail arrived at Burlington International Airport
early in the morning and soon re-joined St. Louis at the Sheraton, where
thousands of fans lined up to get their photos taken with St. Louis
and the cup. (The event doubled as a fund-raiser, netting $7,500 for
a local charity.) Then St. Louis and the Stanley Cup moved on to Gutterson
for a small reception, a trip around the pediatrics ward at Fletcher
Allen, a run up Church Street, and finally a private party where The
Samples were house band for the night, joined on-stage for a few songs
by three members of Phish.
He ought to be the poster boy, not just for small players, but
for any player who dreams of making it.
Jay Feaster, Tampa Bay general manager
UVM TO MVP
The St. Louis family is enjoying a welcome breather at home in early
August, a brief window between post-championship/MVP hubbub and Martins
departure to play for Team Canada in the World Cup, not to mention a
second round with the Stanley Cup in hometown Laval, Quebec. While Heather
plays with Ryan in the next room, Martin sinks into the couch, puts
his feet up on the coffee table, and reflects on the startling rise
of his hockey career.
Unlike many college athletes with pro potential, St. Louis was in no
hurry to leave school early. After his junior season, the year the Catamounts
went to the NCAAs Frozen Four, he had an offer from the Washington
Capitals to turn pro, but turned it down in favor of one more year of
college hockey and finishing up his degree in small business management.
A sound plan and a mature one, but the only problem was that an NHL
offer wasnt there after St. Louiss senior year. He held
steadfast to the plan. I knew that somehow I was going to play
hockey Europe or in the NHL. I was going to chase the dream for
a little bit. He signed with Cleveland of the International Hockey
League, eventually moving on to the NHL with Calgary.
Heather Caragol St. Louis 97, an accounting major from Connecticut
who met her future husband over the summer between their junior and
senior years, says she never saw his confidence falter as he climbed
through the professional hockey ranks. When he went from Cleveland
to the Calgary organization, he took a pay cut. But he was willing to
do that in hopes it would increase his chances, she says. He
just knew that if he was presented with an opportunity, he could make
After the disappointment of being put on waivers by Calgary in 2000,
and passed over by every team in the league, St. Louis landed with Tampa
Bay. The team would prove to be the opportunity and good fit hed
long sought, and St. Louis began to emerge as a top player and scoring
leader with the Lightning. But nearly as soon as hed met one challenge,
St. Louis was faced with another when he suffered a bad break to his
leg in March 2002.
People told me that I wouldnt have the same balance, I wouldnt
have the same strength, St. Louis says. I felt like I had
something to prove to myself and other people Im not going
to let this injury ruin my career.
Over the summer, as St. Louis worked out in UVMs weight-room and
ran countless steps in Gutterson, he lifted his trademark tenacity to
new levels and built his tree-trunk legs to near special effects proportions.
He shows off the surgical scar where a plate and six screws mended his
fibula, says the leg is stronger than ever, but knocks on the coffee
table for good measure. Im stubborn in many ways,
St. Louis says. When people tell me that I cant do things,
Ive got that drive to prove people wrong, that Ill-do-it-better-than-you
kind of thing.
This is someone even the most jaded media cretin can cheer for.
A prohibitive underdog, an articulate person and generally nice guy
whos proven the geniuses wrong.
George Johnson of the Calgary Herald writing for ESPN.com
WHO IS THIS GUY?
Any conversation with Martin St. Louis about his hockey career, one
suspects, is going to cycle back around to hard work. Hes firm
in his belief that it has a lot more to do with his success than talent,
and begins the credit with his parents. My dad has been a hard
worker his whole life. Hes from a family of 14 kids, started working
when he was eight years old, St. Louis says. He knows what
work is. Sometimes people think theyre working hard, but compared
Nowhere are St. Louiss work habits on more vivid, or public, display
than in a hotel fitness center. Heather St. Louis mentions a recent
trip and says its a tough place for her husband to hide his rising
celebrity status. She smiles as she alludes to his routine of weights,
running, and plyometrics and says, If you or I were in a gym seeing
him do the things that he does, wed think he was nuts. People
think, Who is this guy? Because nobody works out like that unless
hes being paid to do it.
The regimen of drills of a hockey player in training are a good deal
more familiar to St. Louiss usual summer workout partners at Gutterson,
which include a number of UVM hockey players past and present. Familiar,
but theres much to be learned from his intensity. St. Louis says
if there is one thing he can pass on to Coach Kevin Sneddons current
players as they seek to return UVM to the heights of the St. Louis-Perrin-Thomas
era, its that they just see how hard he works.
I dont care how good you are, you still have to work hard
to get to the next level. There are a lot of great players who dont
make it, he says. There are tons, and it is the work ethic
that makes the difference. Some just think it is going to happen because
they are gifted.
Even now, even Martin St. Louis doesnt seem to have quite accepted
that it has really happened. Tampa Bay coaches say he has an old habit,
dying hard, of checking the roster posted in the locker room to be sure
hes still on the team. In pro sports culture of entitlement,
thats a rare attitude, one that has earned him the respect of
fans and the front office, players and the press. To St. Louis, its
simply the thread of a straight-forward, well-worn plotline that has
worked from Quebec to Vermont to Florida and shows no signs of taking
You cant take it for granted. You take things for granted,
you relax, you let go, you dont push as hard, he says. You
forget what it took to get here.