They held a Snub Summit in Ottawa on Thursday.
On one side, Martin St. Louis, listed at 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, 38 years 7 months old, just coming off a 10-game scoring streak (eight goals, six assists), leading scorer of the Tampa Bay Lightning, last year’s NHL scoring champion, former Hart Memorial Trophy winner as the league’s most valuable player and a previous Olympian.
And not good enough for Team Canada.
On the other side, Bobby Ryan, listed at 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, 26 years 10 months old, 30-plus goals in each of his past four full NHL seasons, the Ottawa Senators’ leading goal-scorer (20), silver-medal winner at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
And not good enough for Team USA.
It was a night in which the Senators reached a bit closer to a grip on the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a 5-3 victory over the Lightning. Goals came from Marc Methot, Erik Karlsson, Zack Smith, Kyle Turris and Ryan; while Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson (short-handed) and Victor Hedman replied for Tampa.
The story of the night, however, was, less than two minutes in, star goaltender Ben Bishop, the key to Tampa’s success this season, was knocked out of the game in a collision with a teammate and did not return. Bishop’s place was taken by backup Anders Lindback, who did not star.
St. Louis and Ryan, on the other hand, were the ongoing puzzle of the meeting.
They are the two biggest names not going to the Sochi Winter Games next month – though, theoretically, each could end up a replacement for an injured player already named to their respective teams.
And yet while so much is the same, the contrasts could hardly be more dramatic.
The contrasts include the manner in which each learned of his failure to make the team of his dreams, to the individual response to the snub they – and pretty much everyone else in hockey – never saw coming.
Never saw coming: sort of St. Louis’s life story. Never drafted – as opposed to Ryan, who went No.2 behind Sidney Crosby in 2005 – and seemingly unwanted. Only the Senators offered him a tryout after his U.S. college days, but no contract.
He played in the IHL and AHL and was once bought out by the Calgary Flames in order to be done with him.
But he struck gold with the Lightning: a Stanley Cup, a string of all-star teams, the Lady Byng, Lester B. Pearson, Hart and Art Ross trophies, at times, a repeat winner.
And for his country, a gold medal in the World Cup of Hockey, two silver medals in world championships.
But no plane ticket to Sochi, thank you.
At least St. Louis learned gently of his fate. Steve Yzerman, head of Team Canada, is also general manager of the Lightning, and it would have been discreet with, surely, a promise St. Louis would have new consideration should his teammate, Steven Stamkos, the best Canadian scorer in the game, be unable to recover fully from his broken leg in time.
St. Louis bit his lip and promptly set out to show what Canada would be missing, scoring four goals in his first game after the bad news and on fire ever since.
For Ryan, it was a very public humiliation. Not only not chosen for the American team, but named in press reports as not worthy by those making the selections.
“He is not intense,” selection committee member Brian Burke was quoted as saying in a meeting on Ryan’s potential. “That word is not in his vocabulary. It’s never going to be in his vocabulary. He can’t spell ‘intense.’”
Ryan is a sensitive young man and the words stung deeply. He refused to later take a call from Burke. He shrugged off attempted apologies from Team USA.
And he all but dove into the worst slump of his season, scoring three points (two on Thursday) in the time in which his snubbed fellow non-traveller, St. Louis, tallied 15, including an assist on Hedman’s goal.
Heading into Thursday’s game, Ryan had not scored in five games, though he says slumps are really nothing new to him.
“I’ve always had a lull and it’s always been at this time of year,” he told reporters this week. Against Tampa, with luck, that “lull” came to an end.
St. Louis is also sensitive man, though hardly as young. It was apparent Thursday afternoon, as the Lightning star tried to shake off persistent reporters.
“I didn’t make the team,” he said, “so there’s nothing to think about.”
But when that failed to work, when one-word answers didn’t work and staring at the floor didn’t work, he opened up a bit about what it has been like to spend an entire lifetime having to prove yourself – and having to do it even after you have established yourself as one of the premier players in the world.
“People used to question my size,” he said. “Now, they question my age. I guess that’s a comfortable place to be in. I’ve been there my whole life. People ask me – I mean, I said the same thing last year – ‘How do you do it at 38?’ I don’t know what 38 feels like. It’s my first time.”
The size factor is old and he dealt with that at the college level and in three different professional hockey leagues. The age factor is novel, but clearly just as irritating to him.
“I think maybe people are waiting for that, I don’t know,” he said. “I know I’m not waiting for that.
“I think I’m past trying to prove people wrong. I’m just trying to live up to my own expectations. If you’re not motivated, you’re never going to get to where you want to go.”
And no one needs to ask where that is.
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