Until a certain age at least, most fathers are heroes to their kids and giants in their eyes. The challenge is not to fall off that pedestal to hard or too soon.
Martin St. Louis is one of the world’s very best hockey players, but also a dad with hockey-playing sons aged 10, eight and six – who are fans as well as gentle critics of their old man. The Tampa Bay Lightning captain may be an ageless wonder and a 5-foot-7 marvel to hockey watchers everywhere, performing as well at age 38 as in any other of his 15 NHL seasons, but he’s held to a higher standard at home.
“You go out there and play and there are definitely games where they [his boys] think I played better than others,” St. Louis was saying prior to the Tampa’s 3-2 loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Wednesday night wasn’t one of his best – St. Louis was scoreless for the first time in more than three weeks, although he was robbed of what would have been the game-tying goal late in the third period.
But that’s been the exception rather than the rule, particularly since St. Louis was passed over by his own general manager, Steve Yzerman, for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team on January 7th.
St. Louis came into the game having scored 14 points in 10 games since the snub, and 52 points in 53 games on the year.
Just a coincidence. He swears it.
“I don’t think it’s motivation, to be honest,” says St. Louis, who played for Canada in 2006. “I feel like I’ve played some good hockey this year, but I’ve had some good bounces. But I’m motivated Game 1, Game 10, you know? To play in this league and be successful, you have to be motivated. I’ve been like that my whole career, I don’t think these last 10 games I have been more motivated. ”
So we can only assume it was also a coincidence that St. Louis ripped off a six-game point streak after he was left off the team by Yzerman in 2010 and went on to score 21 of his 30 goals that year in the 43 games that followed the team being named.
He’s yet to reveal where his heart really is after getting passed over by his boss even as the NHL’s defending scoring champion and the league’s leading point-getter since 2010. But sometimes it’s what you don’t say.
Asked if the past few weeks had allowed him the opportunity to reflect on how he came to be passed over again – St. Louis also missed out in 2010 – and he didn’t even bother with a pat answer.
Did he know why he missed out?
“No. I mean … no,” he said.
Will he watch the tournament?
“I’m sure I’ll watch some of it,” he shrugged.
It probably doesn’t help that he’s an adjunct to one of the more compelling stories in advance of Sochi: will teammate Steve Stamkos, out since Nov. 11th after having surgery for a broken leg, be ready in time?
If he’s not there’s the possibility St. Louis could be an injury replacement or even be passed over again.
“It’s obviously been tough for Marty, but he’s played his best hockey since that so it just shows the professional that he is,” Stamkos said. “It was tough to be there with him when he was going through that situation, but he’s proved why he’s one of the best in the game. [But] If I can’t go, it’s not my call who goes.”
There are few in the NHL with more experience dealing with being on the outside looking in and figuring out how to break through. St. Louis was undrafted out of college hockey and had to work his way up through the IHL and the AHL in the Calgary Flames’ system before being left exposed in the expansion draft in 2000.
But even as a Stanley Cup winner and former NHL MVP he still can’t catch a break, even with his own general manager running Team Canada.
Dealing with adversity is clearly the not-so-secret story behind his success.
“Big guys always have to play themselves off teams, little guys always have to play their way on, that’s just sports,” says his coach Jon Cooper. “[But] he’s a competitor, he’s just one of those guys, he battles. You can’t tell him no and if you do it’s just going to piss him off and it’s probably going to bring the best out of him.”
Playing for Team Canada was a clear goal for St. Louis as his career winds down, but it’s not like he’ll be without motivation. The hair may have flecks of gray but the furnace still burns red hot.
Even after a loss the Lighting are a firm third in the Eastern Conference, nipping at the heels of Boston, a stunning achievement given they’ve been without Stamkos for most of the year. They’re long-shot championship contenders but St. Louis will take those odds.
“If you had told us where we’d be after game 53 with all the adversity – not that I didn’t think we could be there – but I would have thought a lot of things would have had to go right for us to be there,” he said.
With playing for his country no longer part of the equation, St. Louis will turn elsewhere for his motivation; he won’t have to look far.
“I want a chance to win a Stanley Cup, everyone plays for that,” he says. “And for me, with my kids being older it’d be nice to be in that position … any Dad wants their kids to proud of them.”
Not much question St. Louis will reach that goal, Team Canada or not.