Lightning great Marty St. Louis' No. 26 will be retired in a pregame ceremony at Amalie Arena. Among the speakers will be Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, who coached St. Louis during his greatest seasons, including the season St. Louis won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP and the Bolts won the Stanley Cup.
It's no coincidence that Tortorella is in town with his team. St. Louis factored that in as he considered what date for the ceremony worked best.
"He is an inspiration to me," Tortorella said of St. Louis. "I was fortunate to have the years with him that I did. I learned a ton from him. I am thrilled and honored to be a part of this …"
Ask Tortorella about St. Louis and here's what you get:
"I'll sum it up this way: He's got a heart as big as this building. I know there were some hard feelings when he left. I'm not exactly sure how it all happened. There were some disgruntled people around here, fans. Stop it! Just remember what he did for this organization. When this organization was floundering, just trying to compete in this league, trying just to be there night after night, that's a guy, with a number other guys, but him leading the way, that put this organization on his shoulders and brought us through.
"There are a couple (banners) hanging upstairs. He's got a lot to do with that. I hope people don't forget that. Remember what he did for this organization. I have nothing but true respect for him. And he's just a great model for people that have been told no, you can't play in this league. He simply would not take that answer, and he had a chip on his shoulder down to his ankle his whole career because of that. I think it shows people that the will and mental toughness turned him into one of the great players of our league, and especially in this organization.
"He's going to be a Hall of Famer. As close as I was with him, watching the intangibles. I'm not sure how the Hall of Fame works. Maybe it's all about numbers. … But I know what he did not only for his team, but for an organization. To me, that's Hall of Fame stuff.
"He wanted perfection. He was a thinker. He drove me crazy coaching him. The greatest attribute about him is his heart.
"Everybody thinks it was Vinny (Lecavalier) and I fighting all the time. I fought with Marty every stinking day out there, about his thinking, about his ice time. He wanted this or that, or why are we doing it this way? But that's what made me a better coach, because he challenged me. He stood up to me. He made me a better coach by standing up to me. Absolutely."
"This organization doesn't get off its feet without him. He wasn't all of it, but he was huge. He had the heart of a lion. He made us a better team. We had some good people around him, but before him and some of those people, it was a comedy show before those guys came in."
Maybe it's just me, but I get the sense that Tortorella thought a lot about Marty's heart.
Tortorella recalled Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, a bloodied St. Louis in the closing seconds.
"I kept on putting him on the ice. Remember, (Andrew) Ference ran him over the last few shifts, just ran him over. I said 'Marty, you're going next, you're going next.' And he said, 'Torts I can't go in again." I have a picture of him on the trainers' table, cut up beat up, skates on, and Andre Roy pouring champagne in his mouth while he was getting stitched up. That's what he is. He pulled people along. I hope we all don't forget that."