The requests have stopped coming – or at least slowed to a trickle – and for Martin St. Louis, it’s a welcome silence.
He has put his heart on display for nearly two weeks now, through the most important games of the season and a personal tragedy so profound his friends throughout the game admit they’re worried for him.
But St. Louis keeps going, keeps producing, keeps leading the New York Rangers in minutes played – for forwards – and in scoring, through it all.
Despite being 38 years old. Despite being undersized and consistently doubted.
Despite having buried his mother, France, last weekend and delivering a heartbreaking tribute to her between games – both Rangers wins – with grieving family and friends watching on in Montreal.
“I literally will never forget his speech for the rest of my life,” said Ben Prentiss, St. Louis’s close friend and Connecticut-based trainer. “It was just heart wrenching. To see how important his mom was in his life was very touching.”
It’s been a difficult time, but fortune has made this series a cathartic matchup for the family. New York has long been a home away from home for St. Louis, as his wife, Heather, is from nearby Greenwich and they have lived in the area in the off-season for years.
And Montreal is essentially where he grew up – in nearby Laval – as a typical, Canadiens-loving kid.
His first jersey (age 6) was the Habs bleu, blanc et rouge. His first NHL game (age 10) was at the Forum, when his father lucked into free tickets, and the youngster sat wide-eyed and spellbound the whole night watching the stacked team that went on to win the 1986 Cup.
There’s a simple comfort now in the fact that they stand in the way of moving on.
“Every Saturday night, I watched Hockey Night in Canada in French with my dad,” St. Louis said. “My idol was Mats Naslund. I lived and breathed the dream [of that team]. Growing up, they were a source of inspiration for me to get to where I wanted to be.”
He has become something of a Canadiens killer, too – at least in the postseason. Ten years ago, during St. Louis’s first run to a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, he had six points in a four-game sweep of the Habs.
This year, St. Louis already has two key goals and four points after three games, and his Rangers lead the series two games to one.
He had struggled to fit in in New York originally, after a controversial trade deadline deal from the Lightning, but that all seemed to change two weeks ago when tragedy intervened.
Those who know St. Louis well say that adversity has always motivated him, going back to the very beginning, when he was the smallest kid on the ice and when he went undrafted into the NHL and his parents considered his small business degree at the University of Vermont their Stanley Cup.
John Tortorella, his former coach, once famously joked that St. Louis skated as though he could be cut from the team at any moment – and this was in the year he won the Hart Memorial Trophy.
Nothing came easy in the beginning and that was something he never forgot. Playing with a chip on his shoulder was all he ever knew, so it never left.
“He works harder than anyone I’ve ever met,” said Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty, who considers St. Louis his “mentor” after training with him the past eight off-seasons. “He takes pride in being one of the hardest workers every year … Someone’s always trying to put him down, so he has to overcome adversity, and being able to deal with that has made him the person and player that he is now.”
“A lot of the guys in the NHL don’t have as much dedication as he has in one foot,” Prentiss added, telling a story about the towering Staal brothers joining his gym and being floored by the 5-foot-8 veteran’s regimen. “Right away, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is what Marty does? This is crazy.’”
Where that work ethic comes from goes right back to his parents.
St. Louis’s father, Normand, grew up as one of 14 children and was working at a local mill before he was 10. He built the family a house and took a job as a postman, sometimes dreaming of his son winning the Cup as he did his route, with tears welling up in his eyes.
France – all 4-foot-11 of her – was the emotional rock, a foundation the family is still trying to imagine life without.
“She was a great lady,” an emotional St. Louis said after one recent Rangers win. “Best human being I’ve ever known in my life. I owed it to her to [keep playing]. I know she would want me to.”
Through all the years in Tampa, good and bad, Normand and France St. Louis were there. Many years, they drove down from Laval to winter and watch their son – and three grandsons – play the game they all loved.
This week, Normand has been spotted patrolling the Madison Square Garden hallways on his own.
The requests for interviews may have stopped coming and the headlines have faded, but the family’s story of determination and grace in the face of tragedy has not.
The Rangers want to keep winning for St. Louis. And he wants to keep winning for her.
“I think what they’re doing is they’re moving on through our team,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “The fact that we’re still playing is enabling them to cope and handle this challenging situation.”
“When a guy’s going through something like this, he’s getting no sleep and the emotional and physical stress is just …” Prentiss said, trailing off. “To see him doing what he’s doing during the most important time in the league is – I mean, I certainly couldn’t do it.”
But that’s Martin St. Louis.