TAMPA — Marty St. Louis was part of the pitch a decade ago to bring the Frozen Four here in 2012, and as college hockey is back again four years later, the former Lightning great is excited to be part of the festivities.
"College hockey was a great experience," the 40-year-old said during a break in Thursday's semifinals. "It helped me, not just get to where I wanted to be on the hockey side but helped me be prepared for life, as a human and not just a hockey player."
St. Louis, who spent 13 seasons with the Lightning, including its Stanley Cup championship in 2004, retired to Connecticut last summer after ending his career with the Rangers. He said he keeps busy coaching his three sons in youth hockey — and another of his players is the son of Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold.
St. Louis had an awkward, difficult departure from the Lightning when he was traded in spring 2014 but said it helps now to come back to a place that still is special to him.
"It really feels like I'm back in my hometown," St. Louis said. "I feel like I grew up here in so many ways. My kids were born here, raised here. … I was here for 14 years. It's a big part of my life. I realized when I landed here, I was like, 'Wow, this is home.' "
He still keeps in touch with current Lightning players such as Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Ben Bishop, and he said he hopes Tampa Bay fans can remember him for his time here and not how he left.
"Regardless of how I finished, that I didn't finish my career here, it doesn't take anything away from how I feel about this place," he said. "I really hope the fans can feel the same way."
St. Louis played in the Frozen Four 20 years ago this year, when he was at Vermont. He lamented that his experience wasn't in Tampa, but in Cincinnati.
"Tampa? Cincinnati?" he joked. "No disrespect to Cincinnati. It's such a destination."