By Adam Kimelman – NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
Nearly two decades later, Craig Ramsay still remembers the smallest player on the ice at the start of Ottawa Senators training camp in 1997.
Ramsay was an assistant coach, and there among Alexei Yashin, Daniel Alfredsson, Vinny Prospal and Alexandre Daigle, was this pint-sized, undrafted training-camp invitee speeding all over the ice. Before Ramsay could figure out who he was, however, he wasn’t there anymore.
“I never had a chance to work with him other than to notice him because he was pretty noticeable,” Ramsay told NHL.com. “He was a nifty, small guy. And then he was gone.”
Martin St. Louis was gone from that Ottawa camp, but after a 16-season career that is likely to include induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, he won’t soon be forgotten.
St. Louis accomplished more than anyone who measured 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds should have, especially during an era where men of his size generally weren’t given the chance to find out if they could be legitimate, contributing NHL players.
“You look back, there were always guys who were small but they competed,” Ramsay said. “They had something special. The key is to have the heart to fight through it. You’re going to be bothered, big guys will try to run you and test you. You have to battle your way through hooking and holding, clutching and grabbing. Marty was a powerful, small man, he was quick as could be, and he was determined and he was not going to be stopped.
“You’re going to run into difficult situations, and it’s how do you handle it? Do you complain and whine? Or do you go out and compete a little harder? With his quickness and his power and being so explosive, he was able to battle through it.”
Battling was hard-wired into St. Louis’ DNA.
“I always believed that Marty spent every day of his professional hockey career waiting for someone to tap him on the shoulder and say, ‘You’re going down; you’re done,'” said Jay Feaster, who was general manager during most of St. Louis’ time with the Tampa Bay Lightning. “That motivated him to be the guy that trained the hardest, that worked the hardest.”
It didn’t happen right away; St. Louis had to challenge Lightning coach John Tortorella for ice time.
“He was a healthy scratch a couple times, got 3 to 4 minutes a couple games, and he was upset,” Feaster said. “He went to see [Tortorella] and he said, ‘I’m better than this, I can do more than this and you need to start using me.’ … [Tortorella] loved that. The player that would come in and challenge him, and as John likes to say, he turns it back and puts it on the player, ‘I’m going to start playing you, you better deliver,’ and that’s exactly what he did.”
St. Louis delivered enough to become the face of the Lightning when they won the Stanley Cup in 2004, literally and figuratively. One of the lasting images is St. Louis with blood streaming down the middle of his forehead with 1:02 left in Game 7 against the Calgary Flames after being hit in the face by the stick of Flames defenseman Andrew Ference.
That famed intensity is what drove St. Louis, but it also drew teammates to him.
“He’s the best teammate I’ve ever played with, without a doubt,” Dominic Moore, who played with St. Louis with the Lightning and the New York Rangers, told Sportsnet 590. “… Marty is one of a kind. He’s as character of a guy as you’ll ever meet, on and off the ice, and just kind of brought passion to his game every day [with] the way he approached it.”
Ramsay, who was an assistant coach with the Lightning from 2001-07, said players would do whatever they could to play alongside St. Louis.
“Everyone wanted a day with Marty, at least on their line,” Ramsay said.
When St. Louis’ mother died the day of Game 4 of the Rangers’ 2014 Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, teammates were in awe that he never missed a game and was a key contributor in the Rangers’ rally to win after trailing the series 3-1.
“He gets to the rink [for Game 5] and he’s standing there ready to go,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said that night. “Can’t say enough about the guy. Comes in and doesn’t want to leave us out to dry. Comes and wants to compete with us and try to win the hockey game. Can’t imagine what he’s going through, what he’s feeling like. It’s an emotional lift. You want to play hard for a guy like that who’s coming from such a tragedy. You want to rally around it.”
Days later, the entire team spent the day between Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Final with St. Louis in Laval, Quebec, at his mother’s funeral. St. Louis knew most of his teammates for less than three months, but that’s how quickly he was able to create a bond.
Feaster saw the same thing. He was living in Calgary in January 2014 after he was fired as general manager of the Calgary Flames when the Lightning came through. Feaster wanted to take some of the behind-the-scenes staffers who were there for the Cup win in 2004 out for a special dinner when he got a call from Nigel Kirwan, the Lightning video coach.
“He said is it OK if we add one more to the list for dinner,” Feaster said. “I said, ‘Sure, who do you have?’ He said, ‘Marty St. Louis asked what we’re doing in Calgary and he said Jay said he’s taking the guys that used to work for him out to dinner with his family.’ He said Martin said, ‘I used to work with Jay. Can I go to?’ So Marty came to dinner. I thought it was pretty cool he did it that way.”
The devotion to team and the tenacity to win is what drove St. Louis as a player and made him a role model.
“We never had any problems saying to players coming into our organization, ‘Model yourself like Marty,'” Feaster said.← Back to Newsletter