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Fennelly: Marty St. Louis stands tall as Lightning's greatest, most inspiring player

TAMPA — He was the biggest man in town Friday night.

Marty St. Louis, 41, who proved so many people wrong in his extraordinary NHL career, who propelled the Lightning from low comedy to a Stanley Cup in 2004, who went away but never left this franchise's history, was again in the middle of the action at Amalie Arena.

Marty always came up big in big moments.

This time, with words, with feeling, with tears — and for mom.

St. Louis' number, 26, was retired in a pregame ceremony and raised to the rafters. Marty went first. He's up there with the Cup banner. He belongs.

For here is the greatest Lightning player of all. He deserved this, no matter how things ended.

Hard feelings were nowhere to be seen Friday.

"I'll always be a Bolt," St. Louis said.

What a night. It belonged to everyone.

"I still have a life-sized cardboard cutout of Marty at my house," said Lisa Mead, a Lightning season-ticket holder from Bradenton. She wore a 26 jersey autographed by St. Louis. "My kids make fun of me all the time. It broke my heart when he left, but he gave this team and city so much. There's something about Marty."

MORE: Laughs, tears as Lightning retires Marty St. Louis' No. 26.

There's something about Marty.

Marty St. Louis was sometimes listed at 5 feet, 9 inches during his 13-year Lightning career.

That was a lie.

He stood so much taller.

A big man for the biggest Lightning moments.

The big man wiped at his tears as his friend and former teammate, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, put it best.

"He was, and still is, and I think he forever will be the heart and soul of this organization," Stamkos said.

Marty always had heart. It's what kept him going despite his size. It's what helped land him with the Lightning in 2000 when it seemed like there was nowhere else for him to go. It's what made him the best player in hockey when the Lightning won the Cup. It's why he should make the Hall of Fame. And it's how he should be remembered in Tampa Bay.

Speakers who preceded St. Louis on Friday: Stamkos, former Lightning coach John Tortorella, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (booed by the crowd), Lightning GM Steve Yzerman (not-so-awkward handshake, semi-awkward half-hug between him and Marty) and Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who presented St. Louis with a new pickup truck.

MORE: Watch a video replay of Marty St. Louis' jersey retirement ceremony on the Tampa Bay Times Sports Facebook page.

No chance that it possessed Marty's horsepower.

"Marty was our motor," said Dave Andreychuk, captain of the Cup winner. "If we could grab onto that motor, we were going places."

Marty had heart even when his heart was broken. In 2014, his mother, France, passed away. Marty was in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs. A few days later, he led his new team, the New York Rangers, to a playoff win over Pittsburgh. Marty scored a goal — on Mother's Day.

On Friday, St. Louis thanked his father, Normand, and his sister, Isabelle. And his wife, Heather, and their three sons, hockey players Ryan, Lucas and Mason. And, fighting his tears, his voice cracking, St. Louis saluted his mom:

"As a kid, she'd always tell me, 'Show them, Marty, show them.' Well, mom, I think I did."

Marty St. Louis will forever be part of Lightning history.

So will the lesson he taught all of us.

"Like I always tell my boys, and the kids listening here, have a dream," St. Louis said. "Go after it. Believe in yourself and anything is possible."

Here's to the man who showed them.

He belongs up there, before anyone else.

There's something about Marty.

RELATED: Lightning falls to Blue Jackets on Marty St. Louis' night.

Fennelly: Marty St. Louis stands tall as Lightning's greatest, most inspiring player 01/13/17 [Last modified: Saturday, January 14, 2017 12:53am]
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