Whatever you do, don't call him small (or old).

April, 2011

Martin St. Louis shakes hands with Zdeno Chara As many of you know I am an avid NHL fan. For inspiration sake, I’d like to tell you about my favorite hockey player.

Martin St. Louis (pronounced Mar-tan San Loo-ee) stands five feet, 9 inches tall (with his skates on) and weighs in at 177 pounds. In today’s NHL, Marty is tiny. The average NHLer is around 210 pounds and is six-two. Zdeno Chara, the hulking Boston Bruins defenseman (pictured here towering over St. Louis) is the tallest guy to ever play the game at six feet, nine inches (a full foot taller than St. Louis) and 255 pounds! But Chara is only taller and heavier than St. Louis—not necessarily bigger.

Since he was a mite (that’s like a hockey Little-Leaguer-- 3 to 4 year olds) coaches have been telling the Laval, Quebec native that he was too small for the game. The story goes that his mother was so concerned that she insisted he wear a ski cap with a giant pom-pom on top so she could keep vigil over him from her kitchen window. She was particularly worried when Marty was old enough to play at Bantam (ages 13 and 14) because that’s the level where checking enters the game. For his own safety, St. Louis was told over and over that he should steer clear of what many consider among the most violent of sports. But St. Louis would have none of it. Substituting will and hard work for size, nothing would douse St. Louis’ dream of making it to the National Hockey League.

Arriving at the University of Vermont in 1993, St. Louis suited up for the Catamounts and promptly became the scoring leader with 51 points. He was honored with a spot on the Eastern College Athletic Conference All-Rookie Team. In his sophomore year, St. Louis increased his point production to 71 (again the scoring leader), and was named ECAC Player of the Year, a First-Team All-American, and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award (College Player of the Year). It was becoming clear that this diminutive right-winger was starting to measure up!

St. Louis, along with best friend and line-mate Eric Perrin (also tiny at only 5’9”) propelled the Cats to 27-7-4 in ’95-’96-- their best-ever season. They qualified for the NCAA Tournament that year, advancing for the first time to the “Frozen Four”. St. Louis increased his point total to 85. He holds UVM records for career and single season points and assists. Despite all this, not a single NHL team showed interest in St. Louis (nor Eric Perrin) and he went undrafted. NHL scouting reports consistently reported that although he had a huge heart, he was just too small for the big league.

Hoping to generate interest from the NHL, St. Louis landed a stint with the IHL’s Cleveland Lumberjacks. It was there that the legendary former Philadelphia Flyers forward Bill Barber took notice of St. Louis’ speed and tenacity. In 1998, St. Louis was awarded a free-agent contract with the NHL’s Calgary Flames, where he was relegated to the Saint John, the Flames’ farm club. He earned call-ups to the NHL level that year and again in 2000, but served primarily in a checking role. He was cut by the Flames in 2000, when Barber was serving as Director of Player Personnel for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Martin St. Louis and Eric Perrin Barber convinced then General Manager Rick Dudley and coach Steve Ludzik to take a chance on St. Louis with a two-year contract at near the League minimum. Dudley didn’t know it then, but he had just committed the equivalent of grand larceny.

St. Louis played in 78 games during the 2000-01 NHL season, and scored 40 points. His next season was even more promising, but was cut short by a broken leg. St. Louis was on pace to score 54 points. 2002-03 was a breakout season for Marty. Erasing all doubts not only that his leg was healed, but about his size as he scored 70 points and helped the Lightning to a Southeast Division title and the second round of the playoffs for the first time in team history. With the Lightning down three games to one in the first round against the Washington Capitals, St. Louis rescued them nearly single-handedly with two goals in game four, and the game-winning goal in game seven to dismiss the Caps. The Lightning were eliminated in the next round by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils.

Martin St. Louis raises the Cup

St. Louis was determined to prove that the previous season was no fluke, and in the ’03-’04 season the Lightning hung an Eastern Conference banner in the rafters for the first time in team history. They went on to win the greatest trophy in sports, Lord Stanley’s Cup, in a grueling seven game series against the very team that had given up on St. Louis just four years earlier: the Calgary Flames. Marty also convinced the coaching staff to contract his old friend Eric Perrin to join the team and they were able to celebrate the Cup together. In addition to winning the Cup, St. Louis took home some other pretty shiny hardware: The Art Ross Memorial Trophy (most NHL points), the Hart Memorial Trophy (revered as the oldest and most prestigious individual award in hockey) for team MVP, and the Lester B. Pearson Award for most outstanding player in the regular season as voted by the NHL Players Association. Who you callin’ small???

These days, Marty is overcoming yet another obstacle. Age. At 35, he is the second-oldest player on his team. Old? Marty led The Lightning with 99 points (31 goals, 68 assists) this year (which was also good enough for second in the league). His 68 assists tied a Lightning record! He finished second on the team in goals (only 21-year-old phenom-in-the-making Steven Stamkos had more), and was just nominated for his sixth straight Lady Byng Trophy (he won it last year), awarded “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability”. Marty was assessed just 12 penalty minutes this year matching his career low set last season.

You can see Marty today with an “A” (assistant captain) on his sweater for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is ALWAYS the first player on the ice and the last one to leave for practice and pre-game warm-ups. Whatever you do, don’t call him “small”.

Click here to watch a Martin St. Louis highlight reel!