New York Rangers’ Martin St. Louis loses a parent, finds a family
The question was easy for Martin St. Louis to answer.
Asked what his mother might think about his playing in the Stanley Cup Final, the New York Rangers forward offered a quiet, simple response.
“She’d be pretty happy about that,” he said.
The story of St. Louis and his mom has become inextricably linked to the story of the Rangers as they face the Kings in Game 1 of the Final at Staples Center on Wednesday night.
It was just a month ago that the Rangers were getting off a plane in Pittsburgh. They had fallen behind the Penguins, 3-1, in the second-round series, so St. Louis wasn’t feeling great to begin with.
Then came news that France St. Louis had died of a heart attack at age 63.
“That was tough for him to go through,” General Manager Glen Sather said. “Tough for all of us.”
The remarkable thing, the part that makes this story special, happened next.
The entire team rallied around St. Louis. Players and coaches took a day off — in the middle of the playoffs — to attend the funeral in Laval, Canada. And something changed on the ice.
“It was just a very emotional time,” St. Louis said. “We really fed off that.”
Talking about his mother at Stanley Cup media day on Tuesday, the veteran could not help welling up the slightest bit as he recalled how she had helped shape his life.
If his dad taught him to work hard, France added a little something extra.
“This was a 4-foot-11 lady that would just look at me straight in the eyes and she would tell me to chase my dream,” he said.
That dream carried him into the NHL, first with the Calgary Flames and then for a 13-year stretch with the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2004.
Along the way, the 5-foot-8 left-hander amassed more than 400 goals. Through the first 62 games of the regular season, he had 61 points, ranking him among the best in the league.
But his relationship with General Manager Steve Yzerman became touchy and he could feel the clock ticking on his career. He wanted one more shot at the title.
Tampa Bay acquiesced to a trade, sending him to New York at the deadline in early March. As part of the deal, the Rangers dealt away captain Ryan Callahan.
“I knew that when we got Marty, that we got a strong leader in his own right,” Sather said.
Still, walking into a new locker room after so many years was not easy, even for a six-time All-Star.
“I had to go into a place and earn the respect of my teammates,” St. Louis said. “I don’t think respect is given.”
His first 19 games — stretching to the end of the regular season — were not exactly spectacular as he recorded one goal and seven assists.
The Rangers made the playoffs and got past the Philadelphia Flyers in a seven-game first-round series. Then came the 3-1 deficit against Pittsburgh.
Upon receiving the news of his mother’s death, St. Louis quickly flew home to be with his father, who just as quickly sent him back.
“He wanted me to play,” St. Louis recalled. “He knew my mom would want me to play.”
The Rangers took Game 5 in Pittsburgh on May 9 — the day after France died — starting a comeback that eventually propelled them into the Eastern Conference finals against the Montreal Canadiens.
It was then, between Games 1 and 2, that the team took a side trip to Laval for France’s funeral.
“You try to be there as a support,” goalie Henrik Lundqvist said, adding: “I think we as a group, in dealing with it the right way, we come together and work for one another.”
The next three games brought three victories. Despite the sadness, St. Louis had hit his stride, tying for the team lead with 13 points in the form of six goals and seven assists in 20 games.
“You try to find ways through the tough times and the good times,” he said.
Which brings him and his team to Staples Center, where they will play Game 1. With an Olympic gold medal already in his pocket — he played for Team Canada in Sochi, Russia — St. Louis has a chance to add another title this year.
This prospect brings him solace, if not outright joy. But he also suspects that when the season ends, when there is no hockey to distract him, serious grief might set in.
It has been that kind of year.
“All over the map,” he said. “The ups and downs.”
So it doesn’t really matter that the experts have pegged New York as the underdog, predicting a Kings victory. St. Louis feels confident that somewhere, somehow, France is celebrating.
“I’m sure she’s smiling from up there right now.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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