photo by Bill DiLillo
For starters, its a remarkable year in the National Hockey League
when four players with roots at the same university match-up in the
conference finals, a feat achieved this May by former Catamounts John
LeClair and Patrick Sharp of Philadelphia and Martin St. Louis 97
and Eric Perrin of Tampa Bay. For St. Louis and Perrin, it was one more
memorable moment in a Stanley Cup-winning dream season that included
an MVP trophy for one, a much-deserved shot at the big leagues for the
other, and the reaffirmation for both of a strong friendship that started
years ago on the ice.
MONTREAL It happens a lot these days. It hits them. Take
Wednesday. Marty St. Louis and Eric Perrin were headed for breakfast
with their parents. St. Louis suddenly turned to his good friend.
Can you believe were together in Montreal, playing the Canadiens
in the playoffs?''
Perrin shook his head. Again.
Later Wednesday, they beat most Lightning players to the ice for a skate,
a casual affair for the team with a 3-0 series lead.
St. Louis grabbed a goaltenders stick and flipped a puck down
the ice, into the net at the far end. Perrin smiled. They circled slowly,
joking in the empty Montreal arena, beneath the Stanley Cup banners
of the team they pulled for as children.
The laughter is back, St. Louis said. Weve been
friends for so long, but wed been out of each others life.
You miss the giggles. When we were laughing the most was when we were
playing together. We were kids having fun. And thats what we are
They never stopped being friends. Even when worlds apart, they made
this journey together, at least in their hearts.
This season, St. Louis was the best player in the NHL. He won the scoring
title. He collected the MVP trophy. His triumph speaks to perseverance.
So does his best friends story.
Despite all he has done, St. Louis happiest moment this season
might have come in late March, when Eric Perrin was called up to the
NHL for the first time. Reunited at last.
met 20 years ago in Laval, a Montreal suburb. Perrins family had
moved from Saskatchewan. He went to try out for a youth hockey team.
When he walked into the dressing room, another kid, a runt like Eric,
told him to turn around so they could stand back- to-back.
Im still the smallest! the kid happily yelled.
It was Marty.
Eric says he still leads, 5-8 to 5-7I.
Growing up, if they werent at a rink, Marty was at Erics
house or Eric was at Martys house. They were in a perpetual state
They always played on the same line. Always. Eight years in Laval, four
years years at the University of Vermont and their first year in minor-league
They knew what they wanted even when the NHL didnt want them.
They went undrafted out of high school, so they starred at Vermont.
They went undrafted out of college, but found a way.
Marty found one sooner.
The Calgary Flames called. Not that Calgary ever saw his true gifts.
He was discarded. It was a blessing. He got another chance a
real chance in Tampa Bay. What St. Louis has done with that chance
is the stuff of legend.
There was no such tale for Perrin. He kicked around the minors. He tore
up a knee. All of North America was a dead end. He worked in Finland
for three long years, playing for a last-place team in a seemingly endless
winter. You saw the sun just a few hours a day, Perrin said.
You couldnt see the NHL at all.
His wife and daughter, Karen and Alyssa, kept him strong.
And Marty had made it, Perrin said. He was an inspiration.
Marty always called. He was starting to shine for the Lightning, but
worried for his friend.
It was awkward talking, Perrin said. Maybe not awkward,
but restrained. He knew I was happy for him, that I was battling. He
tried to hold back talking about himself.
heart was hurting, St. Louis said. I kept thinking, Why
me and not him? Why me? Why cant he come, too?
Perrin kept plugging. Last summer, the Lightning invited him to training
camp. Lightning coach John Tortorella liked Perrins speed, hustle
and heart. Sound familiar?
The Lightning sent Perrin to their farm club in Hershey, Pa. After a
slow start, he became one of the leagues better players. And kept
hoping. So did his family. And the St. Louis family. Theyre that
close. Eric could be a St. Louis, Marty could be a Perrin.
Eric Perrin was riding a bus after a game when his cell phone rang.
It was the Lightning. Perrin called his wife. And his father. His sons
voice cracked. Soon they were both crying.
Dad, I got my dream, Eric said.
He phoned St. Louis.
I knew you could, Marty said.
St. Louis was more nervous than Perrin. There were only four games left
in the season when Perrin was called up. St. Louis pulled for his friend
whenever he touched the puck.
Heres a 28-year-old kid, said St. Louis, also 28.
This could be his only chance to play in the NHL. I know he has
the skills. But his first chance could be his last. And he has four
stuck. Hes a fourth-line center. He has played solid defense and
nearly scored his first NHL goal in this series. Hes in Montreal,
playing the Canadiens. In the playoffs. With Marty.
I use the word surreal a lot, Perrin said.
are no guarantees for next season. But hes here. And its
Eric Perrin and Marty St. Louis sat in the dressing room Wednesday,
giggling about college days at Vermont, when they took Introduction
to French, which they spoke fluently.
The first day, everybody reads a paragraph, St. Louis said.
Im stopping at every word. Then its his turn.
He starts going and going. Im whispering, Slow down.
I wasnt going that fast, Perrin said.
You were going good, St. Louis said.
The laughter filled the room.
As if it had never left.
Reprinted by permission of the Tampa Tribune.