On Tuesday, January 7, the hockey players who would comprise Team Canada were announced at a ceremony in Toronto.
Tampa Bay Lightning captain Martin St. Louis, who led the NHL in scoring last season, was not one of the players selected. The exclusion was particularly noteworthy because Team Canada’s executive director is Steve Yzerman, who also happens to be the general manager of the Lightning.
St. Louis has played nine games since the snub, and what he has done is truly remarkable.
The same night the team was named, Yzerman’s Lightning played against the Jets in Winnipeg. St. Louis played more than 24 minutes; he scored two goals, including the third-period winner. In the eight games since, he has not played fewer than 20 minutes in any contest and he has not yet failed to record at least one point.
That two-goal outburst against Winnipeg wasn’t the high point for St. Louis personally, either.
At the age of 38, the diminutive scorer recorded the first four-goal game of his career against San Jose on January 18 (it was also only the second four-goal game in Tampa Bay’s history). The Lightning traveled to Carolina the next day, and St. Louis picked up an assist; a day later he was named the NHL’s first star of the week.
In all, St. Louis has eight goals and 13 points to go along with a plus-five rating in the nine games he’s played for the Lightning since being excluded from Canada’s Olympic team.
In some ways, it is a microcosm of St. Louis’ career, which has seen him passed over many, many times. St. Louis was never drafted, so he went the college route as an unrestricted free agent and piled up the points. He had a tryout with Ottawa but couldn’t land an NHL contract; he had to sign a minor league deal in the IHL.
He was a near point-per-game player in the IHL, so Calgary finally signed him; he jumped to the AHL where he was a point-per-game player. He also tied for the team lead in playoff scoring as the Saint John Flames went to the Calder Cup Finals.
St. Louis would continue to pile up points in the minors, but he could not carve out a niche with the Calgary Flames. Calgary coach Brian Sutter employed St. Louis on the penalty kill and actually gave him a reasonable amount of even-strength ice time, but for whatever reason did not use him on the power play and could not get much in the way of offence out of St. Louis.
The Flames opted not to keep St. Louis, and actually exposed him at the 2000 NHL expansion draft (as reported by Fox Sports Florida), where he was ignored by both Columbus and Minnesota. Tampa Bay general manager Rick Dudley took a chance on the unwanted forward, and St. Louis repaid that faith—and stuck it to his doubters—by becoming one of the best scorers in the NHL.
So it perhaps should not come as a surprise that St. Louis responded the way he has. He responded to going undrafted by lighting up college hockey. He responded to a lack of professional interest by tearing up the IHL. He responded to being passed over in the expansion draft by making Minnesota and Columbus very, very sad that they did not take him.
Even in 2010, when St. Louis was excluded from the Vancouver Olympic team, he went on a tear, scoring points in six consecutive games (nine of them in all) and tallying 21 goals in the remaining 43 games that year (after managing only eight in 39 prior contests).
St. Louis has faced adversity and skepticism many times. He has always handled it in the same manner: by being a better hockey player.
And in this case, it may not be in vain. The odds that Canada will need an injury replacement at forward by the time Sochi rolls around are at least decent.
Prior to St. Louis’ run, Claude Giroux, the 26-year-old captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, might have been the choice of Team Canada. Giroux has two goals and eight points in 10 games (along with a minus-four rating) since being left off the roster; he has not been bad, but he does not match up to St. Louis.
Nobody has, really. If Canada needs a replacement forward, St. Louis has to be at the top of the list.