Throwback Thursday: Top ‘Cat at Vermont – and beyond
Martin St. Louis’ journey at the NHL began at the University of Vermont where he became the school’s all-time leading scorer. (Photo credit/UVM athletics)
He rolled into TD Garden a few weeks back as a New York Ranger – after 13 years anchoring the Tampa Bay Lightning offense and locker room.
In a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline last year, Tampa Bay swapped Martin St. Louis for Ryan Callahan. All the newest Broadway Blueshirt did then was help to lead the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final after experiencing winning the Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004.
“I know this is going to be a challenge for me, but I love challenges and I like to rise to the occasion,” St. Louis told ESPN New York at the time.
Flashback some 20 years when the Laval, Quebec, native landed in Burlington, Vermont. All he did then was put on a red-light show from 1993-’97 en route to becoming Vermont’s all-time leading scorer.
A record unlikely to ever be broken by any future Catamount.
“I’ve dedicated my life to being a hockey player,” St. Louis told NHL.com a few years ago about accepting challenges. “The truth is I’m so focused on being a hockey player. That comes from a kid’s dream just trying to accomplish being the best you can. I felt like I could step in right away (at Vermont) and get quality ice time. It was near my house and I loved the campus and the Gutterson Fieldhouse. When I first saw a game there it was electrifying.
“For me it was going somewhere to make a difference.”
What a difference St. Louis made.
His numbers are a jaw-dropping total of 91 goals and 176 assists for 267 points in 140 games, highlighted with appearances in the 1996 and ’97 NCAA tournaments. The ’96 run ended in Vermont’s first-ever Frozen Four appearance, a punch-in-the-gut semifinal loss to Colorado College in the second overtime, played on a slushy ice surface in Cincinnati – the winning goal a dubious ending.
“For sure,” a still-stung St. Louis said about that outcome, “we ended up losing on a hand pass. It’s a tough way to lose, but, hey, it was Vermont playing No. 1 in the country, Colorado College, at the time. And we lose in overtime on a hand pass. That was a big step for the program – my best year when I was there. It was a great experience.”
“Him and Eric Perrin had incredible chemistry,” Tim Thomas reflected about his four years at Vermont with St. Louis – and his between-the-pipes view for St. Louis’ explosive offense.
“Right from my freshman year with captain’s practice, I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Thomas – who also holds several Vermont goaltending records – quipped. “To be honest, I was skeptical about him carrying it over into the (NCAA) game because of size. Halfway through that first year, there wasn’t any question. What’s made Marty successful in college and [the NHL] is he’s always trying to get himself better.”
(Thomas and St. Louis would both get much better, meeting 15 years later in the scintillating 2011 Eastern Conference Final, a seven-game series that ended in a 1-0 Bruins’ victory in Game 7 – and an eventual Stanley Cup ring for Thomas.)
“I had offers to leave after my junior year,” the pragmatic 5-foot-7 right wing said, “but didn’t take them. I wanted to get the degree; the money then was not like now. After you pay taxes and maybe buy a car, there’s not much left. It wasn’t worth it.”
Surprisingly, the well went dry after graduating with 60 points in 36 games his senior season in 1997 in which he also was the Catamounts’ captain.
“Unfortunately there was nothing. It just didn’t happen. Yeah, it was probably the ‘He’s too small to play in the NHL.’ It was definitely an issue back then; now it’s not.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of people out there who wish they jumped on it. They had the opportunity,”
Calgary would take the opportunity several months later.
From 1997-2000, St. Louis’ career was an up-and-down bounce across the IHL, AHL and NHL before landing in Tampa Bay as one of the franchise’s best-ever players the past decade.
“To get to the NHL,” St. Louis summed, “there are different layers of play you need to get to and prove to yourself before this goal is really attainable. Dreams keep you going as reality sets in at different times when you struggle.”
“I’ll always be grateful for the Flames; they’re the only team that gave me a chance after college. When they cleaned house in management and had some first-rounders coming up, somebody had to go. Tampa was close to the bottom of the league at the time and my best chance to make it at this level.”
What were and are the keys to his making it?
“It’s about being a professional. You get out on the ice and play regardless of what’s going on around you. You got to fight for respect. The tough years, they’re the ones that define you as a player; builds character and makes you appreciate the good times and prepares you more for adversity than when things are going well.”
Things went pretty well, indeed, for St. Louis and for Tampa Bay in that 2004 Stanley Cup, while copping the Hart and Ross Trophies that spring as the NHL’s MVP and leading scorer.
“I wanna win another Cup,” he said before landing on Madison Avenue. “Sometimes it’s not the most talented team that wins; it’s the best team.”
With 1104 career games under his NHL belt and 1017 total points into the All-Star break, Martin St. Louis will work to increase that total to help make the Rangers the very best team this June after losing the Final to the Kings last June.
“I’ve dedicated my life to being a hockey player,” he reiterated