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Lightning's Marty St. Louis replaces Stamkos in Olympics

TAMPA

Marty St. Louis' road to Sochi for the Winter Olympics was a winding one. Bumpy, too.

On Thursday, St. Louis was finally named to the Canadian Olympic hockey team.

About time.

And well deserved.

Still, it might have been the most awkward Winter Olympic moment since Tonya and Nancy.

Let's get this straight: St. Louis absolutely belongs on the Canadian Olympic team.

But let's not fool ourselves. The only reason he is going to Russia is because Lightning teammate Steven Stamkos cannot. St. Louis wasn't choking back tears or doing backflips Thursday after being named to replace Stamkos on the team. How could he, knowing his buddy is staying home, still trying to mend a broken leg as well as a freshly broken heart?

That's not all.

We can't just all of a sudden forget that St. Louis was left off the team in January by Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman — the same Steve Yzerman who is the Lightning general manager. And the same Yzerman who left St. Louis off the 2010 Canadian Olympic team, too.

Yeah, yeah, I know, it was group decision. Yzerman and a bunch of Canadian muckety-mucks decided together that St. Louis wasn't good enough. But Yzerman is the one with the big title, the one with veto power, the one in charge.

You couldn't help but wonder if, when Yzerman called St. Louis and offered him a spot on Team Canada, St. Louis wasn't tempted to tell Yzerman to stick it.

"It's tough — as upset as you can be sometimes — it's hard to turn down these opportunities," St. Louis said. "You've got to realize you only get a few kicks (at) the can. You've got to put the emotion aside and realize the experience and the opportunity."

So, knowing that two seconds of vengeful satisfaction would turn into a lifetime of regret, St. Louis accepted Yzerman's invitation and began packing his bags for Russia, leaving enough room to bring back a gold medal.

St. Louis also thought about his kids. When he played for the 2006 Olympic team, which didn't even medal, St. Louis' three boys were either too young to remember or not born. Today, Ryan is 10, Lucas is 8 and Mason is 6.

And, well, there's this: It's hard to say no when your country calls. Especially when it's Canada, and especially when it's hockey.

"Whenever you get a chance to win a gold medal … it's an experience that you remember for a long time," St. Louis said. "And for me, my kids being older, just (to) see their dad on that stage … I'm happy for my career, but as a dad, I'm happy to do that and have my kids see that."

Still, was it a weird conversation when Yzerman invited St. Louis to join Sidney Crosby and the rest of the boys in Sochi, especially after calling him a month ago and telling him he wasn't invited?

"I keep our conversations between us," Yzerman said. "Marty is a proud guy. You got a chance to talk to him as did I after (he wasn't named in January). We all have to make decisions as players, as managers and coaches. It's professional sports, and we move on."

In the first game after he was snubbed, St. Louis scored the winning goal in Winnipeg. In the first 10 games after the snub, he poured in eight goals and six assists.

"It was tough to be left off of it, but I was trying to move past it," St. Louis said. "Of course I was bitter. I've answered those questions before. Was I motivated? I don't think it's motivation. I've been motivated the past four years, the past 10 years. If you're not motivated, you're not even considered for these things."

Every Lightning game after the snub became St. Louis' personal platform to show the Canadian brain trust it might have been lacking some brains. He said going on the ice was the best therapy.

"After naming a team, we continued to watch players," Yzerman said. "We watched, and clearly Marty has played extremely well. … Marty has played very well, and we're looking for a right winger. He's a good fit. He's a great fit.

"Marty's the first person we contacted (after Stamkos dropped out Wednesday), so obviously he's the first person on the list."

This is turning out to be quite the season for St. Louis. He was named captain of the Lightning. He played in his 1,000th NHL game. He recently tied the franchise record with four goals in a game. He passed the great Maurice "Rocket" Richard on the league's all-time scoring list.

And now this, a spot on the Olympic team.

"It's a great opportunity for me," St. Louis, 38, said. "I've worked hard for this."

The hope is this brings an end to what has been an uncomfortable month for St. Louis, Yzerman and the Lightning.

"I don't want to discuss it," Yzerman said. "This is a professional matter. He's done everything he can for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and he's going to go play for Canada and help Canada win a gold medal."

At the very least, St. Louis will be there. He should have been going all along.

Marty St. Louis skates past fans’ signs celebrating his selection to the Canadian Olympic team before Thursday’s game.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Marty St. Louis skates past fans’ signs celebrating his selection to the Canadian Olympic team before Thursday’s game.

Lightning's Marty St. Louis replaces Stamkos in Olympics 02/06/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 7, 2014 10:25am]

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