Martin St. Louis  
 


Does size matter in professional hockey? Not to Martin St. Louis. The diminutive winger is listed at 5-9, but that’s probably with his skates on. Once he hops over the boards, however, Martin is a monster, as he employs a devastating combination of speed, smarts and spunk to terrorize bigger opponents. It’s okay to call Martin small. Just don’t ever tell the NHL’s 2004 scoring champ he doesn’t measure up. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Martin St. Louis was born on June 18, 1975 in Laval, Quebec. He laced up his first pair of skates shortly after his third birthday. Within a couple of years, Martin was playing hockey with friends on lakes and ponds, and when the weather warmed up, they took to the streets with their sticks.

Martin’s hometown, a legendary hockey hotbed, stoked his competitive fire and gave him all the ice time a hockey-crazed could want. He often practiced by himself on an outdoor rink some 200 yards from the family home. His mother, France, always dressed him in a ski cap with a large pom-pom on top. Martin wasn’t a particularly big kid, and this was the best way to keep an eye on him from the window.

Among the other sports Martin enjoyed were soccer and gymnastics. Though better suited to his build, they failed to stir his passions like hockey. The youngster inherited his size from his father, Normand, who stands 5-6. That’s also where Martin learned his work ethic. Normand was one of 14 brothers. As a kid, he literally had to fight for the things he wanted. He did odd jobs around his father’s lumber mill, and eventually became a postman as an adult. Somewhat of a handyman, Normand renovated houses, too. Martin liked tagging along with his dad on these jobs.


 
 

On the ice, Martin had his father’s appetite for hard work. By the time he reached the Bantam level, he had developed into a quick and talented playmaker who saw openings and opportunities where others did not. He dreamed of making it to the NHL. Once when his grandmother asked what team he hoped to suit up for, he answered the Montreal Canadiens, because they were winners and so was he.

Like any right-thinking Canadian boy, he counted Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux among his favorite players. But his idol was Mats Naslund, the Swedish-born star of the Canadiens. Martin identified with Naslund because of his smart, spirited style of play—and his small build.

Bantam hockey was a challenge for Martin, because at this level checking became legal. But rather than shying away from the contact, he often sought it out. Martin dug the puck out of the corners, darted from behind the goal into the crease and gave as good as he got. Motivated by his desire to prove that he could compete with the big kids, he developed into a star.

The language spoken in the St. Louis home was French, which is also what Martin learned in school. Still, he sought out American colleges to continue his hockey career. Scholarship offers weren’t particularly forthcoming for a smallish forward, so Martin settled on the University of Vermont in Burlington. He arrived on campus in the fall of 1993.

ON THE RISE

UVM, one of 12 teams in the Eastern College Athletic Conference, boasted one of the top programs in the Northeast. That was a must in a league that included the likes of Harvard, RPI, Cornell and Clarkson. Head coach Mike Gilligan had been at the helm for the Catamounts since 1985, and along the way built a proud legacy. The school’s two most famous hockey grads were John LeClair and Aaron Miller (both of whom would go on to play for Team USA in the 2002 Olympics).


Mats Naslund, 1989 Esso

 

 
 

Martin was one of two heralded freshman to join the UVM hockey team for the 1993-94 season. The other, forward Eric Perrin, was also a Laval native. The two made an immediate impact. Martin led the Catamounts in scoring with 51 points, and linemate Perrin was second with 45. Both earned honors on the ECAC All-Rookie Team.

Martin was even better the following season. Named ECAC Player of the Year, he topped UVM in scoring for the second year in a row, this time netting 23 goals and assisting on 48 others. National recognition also began to come Martin’s way, as he was voted a First-Team All-American and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

The 1995-96 campaign proved the highlight of Martin’s college career—and went down as one of the UVM’s greatest ever. At 27-7-4, the Catamounts posted the best record in school history, qualified for the NCAA Tournament, then advanced to the Frozen Four for the first time ever. Gilligan garnered consideration as Division I Coach of the Year, while Martin was again a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. He and Perrin ended the year with 85 points each, solidifying their nickname as the “French Connection.”

The pair starred again in their senior season, combining for 119 points. They led UVM to a mark of 22-11-3, and a brief stay atop the national rankings, the first time in school history the Catamounts had been able to say they were #1. In December, with a goal in a 4-3 victory over Providence, Martin surpassed Tim O’Connell as UVM’s all-time leading scorer. He also enjoyed big days against Wisconsin and Princeton. In the annual Badger Showdown, he burned the hosts with his third-career hat trick. In three games against the Tigers during the ECAC quarterfinals, Martin lit the lamp five times and added an assist. In the ECAC All-Star Game in April, at UVM’s Gutterson Fieldhouse, he impressed with two goals and two assists.

Amazingly, despite his fabulous four-year career (with 91 goals and 176 assists, he finished just four points off Lance Nethery's all-time ECAC scoring mark), Martin didn’t attract the interest of a single NHL club. Unwanted and undrafted, he signed with the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the International Hockey League. Vermont teammate Perrin also grabbed a spot on the team.

Cleveland’s roster was stocked with players hoping to catch the eye of NHL scouts, including forward Derek Wilkinson and goalie Pat Jablonski. But the IHL (which went defunct in 2001) wasn’t necessarily viewed as a breeding ground for major-league talent. Still, when Bill Barber spotted Martin jetting around the ice during the IHL playoffs, the former Flyer great made a mental note to keep tabs on him. Barber would later be hired as Player Personnel Director of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Martin also impressed the Calgary Flames enough to earn a free-agent deal with the club. They assigned him to the Saint John Flames of the American Hockey League, which put him a giant leap closer to the NHL. Recent alumni of the league included goaltender Garth Snow, defensemen Adam Burt and Eric Weinrich, and forwards Bates Battaglia and Ted Drury.


John LeClair, 1992-93 Ultra
 
 

Saint John—the largest city in Canada’s New Brunswick province—proved a comfortable home for Martin. He joined the team with 25 games left in the regular season, and with 15 goals and 11 assists, established himself as one of the team’s best offensive players. The Flames also featured a strong presence in net in the form of Jean-Sebastien Giguere. With Martin and Giguere leading the way, Saint John rolled through the AHL playoffs. The Flames advanced to the finals, where they were bounced by the Philadelphia Phantoms in six games.

Martin returned to Saint John for the 1998-99 season and became the team’s top scorer. Among those charting his progress were Calgary GM Al Coates and head coach Brian Sutter. They liked his speed and grit, and felt he could be a disruptive force as a forechecker and penalty-killer. The big club called Martin up early in the season and put him on the fourth line. He netted his first goal on the road in Dallas against the Stars on October 20th. But Martin struggled to adjust to the pace and power of the NHL, not to mention his role as a defensive specialist. The Flames sent him back to Saint John after 13 games. He went on to lead the team in goals (28) and points (62), and also performed well in the AHL playoffs, tallying eight points in seven games.

Martin found himself back in New Brunswick to start the 1999-2000 season, but luckily his stay was a short one. Calgary needed a spark, and the feisty winger got the call in November. Again, Sutter used him primarily as a checker. Better prepared for what was expected of him, Martin earned more ice time. A week after his promotion, he registered seven shots on goal against the Colorado Avalanche. A week after that, Martin posted the first two-point game of his career, in New Jersey against the Devils. His next scoring highlight did not come until March, when he burned the Penguins for two goals. By season’s end, though his stats (3 goals, 15 assists, -5 rating) didn’t show it, Martin had rounded out his game and gained more confidence in himself.

Sutter and Coates didn’t see it that way, and decided not to offer him a new contract. Martin signed a two-year deal with Tampa Bay in July of 2000 at slightly more than the NHL minimum. Little did Lightning GM Rick Dudley know it at the time, but he had just happened upon the biggest bargain in the league.


Jean-Sebastien Giguere,
2002 First Edition
 
 

Not much was expected of Martin going into the 2000-01 campaign. The same was true of the Lightning. Coach Steve Ludzik had talent on his roster, but not much in the way of experience. Center Vincent Lecavalier was just beginning to mature into a star, while wingers Fredrik Modin and Brad Richards had showed flashes of brilliance. On the blueline, Pavel Kubina, Ben Clymer and Jassen Cullimore formed a good nucleus. In goal, Kevin Weekes split time with Dan Cloutier until Cloutier was traded in mid-season.

Ludzik did what he could, but Tampa Bay had no shot at the post-season. Still, the Lightning improved their record to 24-47-6-5, which gave their fans at least some hope the team could turn things around. Martin was a major reason why the Tampa Bay faithful felt this way. Appearing in 78 games, he set career-highs in goals (18) and assists (22), and topped the Lightning with three shorthanded tallies.

Martin opened the season slowly. In fact, it wasn’t until late November that he seemed comfortable in Ludzik’s system. After netting his first goal of the year—a short-hander against the Atlanta Thrashers—he relaxed a bit and soon became one of his club’s best players. Martin got to the point where he was secure enough to sit down with Ludzik and request more playing time. The coach acquiesced, and Martin went on to score 34 of his 40 points after December 1. By March, Ludzik didn’t want to take him off the ice. Twice that month, Martin produced three-point games. In April, he logged a season-high 22:53 of playing time against the Penguins.

Martin could barely wait for the 2001-02 season to start. Despite Tampa Bay’s four straight years of less than 60 points, the team appeared to be headed in the right direction. The biggest addition to the Lightning was goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. Club CEO Tom Wilson had promised to dust off his wallet, and the acquisition of the Russian netminder from the Phoenix Coyotes proved him good to his word. The other significant change in Tampa was behind the bench, where John Tortorella took over as coach.

From the outset, the Lightning skated like a totally different team. Martin was one of the catalysts. Tortorella increased his ice time, including more minutes on the power play. With Richards centering his line, Martin responded to the workload, developiong into one of the team’s top scorers. In October, he pieced together a three-game goal-scoring streak. In December he posted his first two-goal game of the year in front of friends and family in Montreal. Later in the month, he assisted on Tampa Bay’s final three tallies in a 4-3 overtime win at home. Martin’s performance was particularly impressive given the fact that he was often a marked man. Opponents pounded him regularly, but he weathered a concussion and heel problems without complaint.


Vincent Lecavalier, 2001 Heritage
 
 

As the campaign moved into January, the Lightning had an outside shot at the playoffs. Then disaster struck. On a clean hit into the boards by Pittsburgh’s Josef Melichar, Martin broke the fibula in his right leg just above his ankle. At the time, he had 16 goals and 17 assists, and was leading the trhe club with a +5 rating. For all intents and purposes, the injury ended his campaign—and Tampa Bay’s. Martin returned in early April, but the team failed to make the playoffs, finishing at 27-40-11-4.

MAKING HIS MARK

Though Martin suited up at the conclusion of the 2001-02 campaign, he faced a long summer of rehabilitation. Working out at his summer home in Vermont, he trained harder than he had at any other point in his life. His days were spent lifting weights, riding a stationary bike and running the bleachers in UVM’s Gutterson Fieldhouse. Martin began skating in June, a month earlier than usual. When he arrived at training camp, he was easily in the best shape of his career.

That was welcome news to Tortorella and the rest of the Lightning, since Tampa Bay was viewed as an up-and-coming team. Lecavalier was living up to his potential, Vinny Prospal had loads of talent, veterans like Dave Andreychuk and Tim Taylor provided experience and grit, the backline was set with Cullimore, Kubina and Dan Boyle, and Khabibulin was now counted among the league’s top goalies.

Martin took his place on Tampa Bay’s first line with Richards and Modin. The trio clicked from Day One. Martin was the key. In October, he scored in six straight games and through the season’s first month he trailed only Mario Lemieux in the NHL scoring race.

Martin was quickly earning the respect of players and fans around the league, and his spirited play helped Tampa Bay climb through the standings. The Lightning went 7-1-2 in the season’s first month, putting them in contention for the division title.

In January, Martin was honored with his first selection to the All-Star game when he was named as an Eastern Conference reserve. Two weeks later he notched his first career hat trick in a 3-1 victory over Carolina.

Martin and the Lightning secured a playoff berth— the second post-season appearance in the franchise’s 11-year history— with a a record of 36-25-16-5, which placed them atop the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference. Martin was one of the team’s most indispensible players, posting career-highs in games (82), goals (33), assists (37) and points (70). His +10 rating was tops on the club.

Tampa Bay drew the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs, and dropped the first two games at home. The Lightning simply couldn’t figure out goalie Olaf Kolzig. Martin shouldered some of the blame. He had slumped near the end of the regular season, and his struggles continued in the post-season.


Martin St. Louis,
2002 Upper Deck MVP
 
 

But he snapped out of his funk in Game Three in Washington, with a goal and two assists in a much-needed victory. Martin stayed hot in Game Four, scoring two goals, including one short-handed that broke a 1-1 deadlock. When Lecavalier added a tally in the third period, the Lightning knotted the series at two games apiece. In Game Five, Martin was the hero again, as he tipped in a pass from Stan Neckar with just over eight minutes left in the third period. He polished off the Capitals two nights later with the game-winning goal in the third overtime.

Tampa Bay came crashing back to earth in round two against the Devils (who would go on to win the Stanley Cup). Though they were eliminated in five games, the Lightning celebrated a tremendous year.

Martin and the Lightning entered the 2003-04 season looking to prove that their breakthrough was no fluke.Tampa Bay held up its end by posting the best record in the Eastern Conference, despite having lost Prospal to free agency.The team was as efficient on the road as it was at home, and its 245 goals ranked third in the NHL.

One of the players who keyed the scoring barrage was Cory Stillman, brought over in an off-season trade. Fellow forwards Richards, Lecavalier, Modin and the ageless Andreychuk also enjoyed strong seasons, while Boyle, Kubina and Brad Lukowich were the stalwarts on the blueline. Another important acquisition was veteran defenseman Daryl Sydor, who came over in the second half of the campaign. In goal, Khabibulin again did his best impression of a brick wall with octopus arms.

No one, however, was more important to the fortunes of the Lightning that Martin. He sharpened his all-around game so completely that Tortorella felt comfortable using him in any situation. The winger was often at his best on the penalty kill. He was such an offensive threat that opponents sometimes forced themselves into mistakes. In a 4-2 win over Boston, Martin set a team record with two goals and an assist—all short-handed.

Early in the year, Tortorella gathered his players and asked for more offensive output. Martin stepped up and accepted the responsibility. His leadership was just what the Lightning needed. Tampa Bay played with spirit and confidence all year long, and actually got stronger as the season wore on.


Martin St. Louis, 2004 Topps
 
 

In January, Martin notched a pair of hat tricks, and garnered enough votes to start for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game. By then he had amassed 44 points, giving him a realistic shot at the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer. Speculation also began that he was a candidate for the Hart (MVP), Selke (best two-way forward) and Lady Byng (most sportsmanlike) Trophies.

Martin picked up the pace in the second half. A 13-game scoring streak moved him in front of Robert Lang in the points race, and he held on to lead the NHL with 94 points on 38 goals and 56 assists. Eight came when Tampa Bay was a man down. With a sparkling +35 rating, Martin was a popular pick for league MVP.

 
 

In the playoffs, Martin ratcheted up his intensity and his production once again. Tampa Bay beat the Islanders on his blistering slapshot in overtime of Game Five, then dumped his beloved Canadiens as the Lightning advanced into previously uncharted post-season territory.

In the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, Tampa Bay faced Philadelphia, the team standing in the way of their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. Martin had a quiet series, but with Richards and Modin piling up the points, the Lightning crept by the Flyers in seven games.

The Finals would be particuarly meaningful to Martin, because the Lightning faced the team that gave him a chance, then gave up on him, the Calgary Flames. Martin stayed silent, insisting he had nothing to prove. But the feeling among many onlookers was that this was something extra special for him.

The teams alternated wins heading into Game Six, with the Flames holding a 3-2 edge in the series. With Calgary skating on its home ice, the mood in the arena and around the city was one of intense anticipation. When the contest entered a second overtime tied at 2-2, hockey fans everywhere held their breath. Martin let them exhale sooner than they expected. About a minute into stanza, he scored on a rebound, silencing the vociferous Calgary crowd and forcing Game Seven in Tampa.

The Lightning used their momentum to seize a 2-0 lead in the decider. But the Flames refused to go quietly, netting a goal midway through the third period. The final 10 minutes were the epitome of playoff hockey, with Calgary applying constant pressure and Tampa Bay countering with odd-man rushes. Martin was in the middle of the action all game long, and suffered a cut above his right eye with about 30 seconds remaining. Blood streaming down his cheek, he skated to his bench without complaint. When Khabibulin turned aside a final Calgary onslaught, the Lightning were crowned Stanley Cup champs. Richards was named the Conn Smythe winner. Martin finished second to him in playoff scoring.

Hardware came his way a week later at the NHL awards ceremony. Martin captured the Hart Trophy (MVP, as voted on by the hockey writers) and the Lester B. Pearson Trophy (MVP, as voted on by the players). He also took home the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading regular-season scorer.

Martin joined some “great” company by winning the Stanley Cup, Hart and Art Ross all in the same season. It was the first time any player achieved the triple since Wayne Gretzky in 1987.

Martin had an opportunity to win another championship at the World Cup of Hockey in August with Team Canada. The Canadians and the Americans were the favorites entering the tournament, and they wasted no time continuing the best rivalry in international hockey. Skating in throwback sweaters commemorating the 1920 Winnipeg Falcons—the team that won Canada the gold medal at the first-ever Olympic hockey tournament—Martin and his teammates used an intense dump-and-chase offense and strong fore-checking to win 2-1. He contributed with his country's first goal of the contest.

The Canadians easily defeated Slovakia in their second game, 5-1. Martin added two more goals, with Lightning teammate Richards assisting on the second tally. Up next was Russia, which kept things close through one period. But a shorthanded tally from Richards put the Russians on their heels and they never recovered. In the quarterfinals, Canada dominated Slovakia, socring four goals in nine minutes in the second period to key a 5-0 victory.

Jaromir Jagr and the Czech Republic awaited Team Canada in the semis. The never-say-die Czechs were underdogs, but pushed the Canadians to the brink. It took an overtime goal from another of Martin’s Lightning teammates, Lacavalier, to squeak out a 2-1 win.

The Canadians met the Cinderella team from Finland in the final as heavy favorites. The Finns played inspired hockey, but it wasn’t enough and they fell, 3-2. Though Martin didn’t have a point in the game, he had a stellar tournament and established himself as one of his country's best players.

Martin, however, probably won’t get to showcase his skills any time soon, with the NHL unable to resolve its labor problems. Still, it was quite a year for him—a work stoppage appears to be the only thing that can slow him down. When the NHL resumes play, Martin will no doubt have but one goal: to become a two-time Stanley Cup champion.

MARTIN THE PLAYER

 
 

Martin’s greatest asset is his speed. A dedicated and fearless worker, he also isn’t afraid to bang around in the corners or take his lumps in front of the net. Not that Martin hangs around one place too long. His ability to dart into the slightest opening forces teams to be ever vigilant, and this in turn creates opportunities for his teammates.

Martin is one of the better conditioned athletes in the NHL. His years playing soccer and doing gymnastics no doubt have helped him on the ice, enhancing his footwork and agility. Martin’s size can work against him. Bigger opponents try to wear him down with physical play. Of course, they have to be able to catch him to do so—and that’s no easy trick.

Only recently has Martin been recognized for his leadership ability. In hockey, this quality goes hand-in-hand with playoff success. The deeper you take your team in the post-season, the more respect you earn. Already admired for his guts and talent, Martin is on his way to achieving the ultimate compliment as a clutch Stanley Cup performer.


Martin St. Louis,
2004 The Hockey News
 
 

Martin St. Louis

 
   
 

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