Little Martin St. Louis loomed large in hockey

When tiny Tyler Ennis was a rookie with Buffalo in 2010, he had no hesitation approaching Martin St. Louis after a Sabres – Lightning game to ask for a signed stick.

“He was a huge inspiration for me, an idol growing up,” Ennis said. “He just gave a lot of little guys hope. Now he’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame. I definitely won’t be selling that stick.”

That gift was five years after St. Louis was named Hart Trophy winner, with five more great years still to give the sport.

Ennis’s tale was one St. Louis would hear often on his road to induction on Monday. The NCAA forward was listed at 5-foot-8, but now compelled to admit “5-7 and a half is pushing it” which he embellished to help his chances as a free agent pro.

Yet St. Louis does not regard himself as a pint-sized pioneer.

“There were other guys in front of me paving the way,” he reminded. “For me, it was Theo Fleury whom I got to play with in Calgary. There was Paul Kariya, Cliff Ronning … I wasn’t the first.

“You pay it forward. Now there are small guys looking up to Tyler Ennis. And other guys will keep doing it.”

The Laval native went undrafted despite four seasons between 50 and 80 points at the University of Vermont. There were failed tryouts with the Senators and Blues before modest success with Calgary.

“My welcome moment in the NHL was lining up next to (six-foot, 215-pound dreadnaught) Rick Tocchet. I was trying to draw a penalty and I leaned into Rick a little bit off the faceoff and he literally slashed me in the throat. I thought ‘I’m messing with the wrong Marine here’.”

St. Louis was cut by Calgary in the summer of 2000 after a change in management with Craig Button coming in as GM. St. Louis was bitter, Button was villified, now both have made their peace, Button publically citing his error.

“I think it was a decision based on what he knew, it was probably the safest decision,” St. Louis said. “He had (draft picks) coming up so there was not much vested into me. He actually didn’t really know me as much as the other guys. I have shook hands with Mr. Button and there is no hard feelings.

“It actually probably helped my career. Business was business and he went on with his and I went on with mine.”

Enter the Lightning who made St. Louis a vital part of their emerging champions – but still in the years before the ‘new’ NHL freed up its Munchkins to run amok.

“You try and prove people wrong,” St. Louis said. “The time you spend holding a grudge is a waste of time.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing with the Lightning. Before the Cup win, St. Louis had to come back from a broken leg in ‘01-02, yet recovered within a year to win the fastest skater event at all-star weekend. He won the Art Ross Trophy in ‘03-04 and led the Bolts in playoff scoring in their march to victory.

The ‘04-05 lockout ruined what might have been a back-to-back attempt, the whole NHL coming out of the dispute with new rules that allowed others to copy cat much of the Lightning’s success.

St. Louis played with the Lightning and Rangers up to 2015, along the way winning a World Cup with Mario Lemieux and replacing injured Tampa teammate Steve Stamkos at the 2014 Olympics in a gold medal run after being a reserve in 2010. He left Tampa under a cloud, but now has his number retired.   

Today, he coaches kids hockey in Greenwich, Conn., including his three pre-teen sons, often at the rink five times a week. He told the Tampa Bay Times he loves it most when all three boys practice the same night and are in the car fighting about who gets control of the radio.

“I don’t miss playing at all,” St. Louis told the paper. “Mentally, I was done. I was missing so much of the good stuff. I just felt terrible not being there for them.

“The minute I retired, the stress level went down. I was such a consumed professional that my family, in a way, came second. They were well taken care of in what they needed. But every decision revolved around making sure I was getting my workouts in, getting rest. I was doing it for them, but they don’t understand that when they’re 7, 8, 9, 10 years old.

St. Louis now enjoys little things such as ski trips, which an NHLer’s contract forbade and a full family dinner.

ST. LOUIS BOX

Born: June 18, 1975, in Laval, Que.

Hall credentials: Amassed 1,033 points in 1,134 games, sixth undrafted player to reach 1,000 points… Won the 2004 Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award, eighth player to win the Cup, Art Ross and Hart in the same season in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s championship year of 2004 … Ten seasons of 25 goals or more … Won Lady Byng  Trophy three times … Won gold with Team Canada at the 2004 world championships and the 2014 Olympics … First player in Lightning history to have his number (26) retired.

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Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies