You can't help but compare one to the other. • Lightning rookie Cory Conacher is listed at 5 feet 8, although he looks more like 5-7. Lightning veteran Marty St. Louis also is listed at 5-8, although he looks more like 5-6. • The exact measurements really don't matter. They're both small by National Hockey League standards. • They're both also very good — by any standard. • Of course, St. Louis, 37, has been doing this sort of thing for 13 seasons. Conacher, 23, has been doing it for eight games. • Going into Monday night, St. Louis was among the league leaders in scoring with 14 points, while Conacher led all NHL rookies in points and plus-minus. • But the two never-drafted stars have developed a special bond that goes far beyond the score sheet. Call it little brother and even littler brother, although both will tell you that size has nothing to do with this working relationship. • So what is it? Why have these two become so close? Mostly, it's a veteran wanting to pass along all that he knows and a kid thirsty for whatever scraps of knowledge he can pick up. Here's what the two mean to each other and the Lightning.
What St. Louis means to Conacher
Ask Cory Conacher a question about himself and he immediately starts talking about everyone but Cory Conacher. This Burlington, Ontario, native must have been raised on a steady diet of humble pie.
He mentions linemates Vinny Lecavalier and Ryan Malone. He talks about Lightning coach Guy Boucher. He talks about his parents and three siblings and all of his buddies who send him texts after every game. He said he can't wait to buy something nice for his mom and dad to thank them for all they've done.
But he mostly talks about St. Louis.
"My whole life, he's a guy who has kept me motivated,'' Conacher said of St. Louis. "He's a guy that I look up to so much. Coming here, he was the first guy I wanted to talk to, just to get an idea of what I had to do.''
St. Louis' messages are straight to the point, as is most everything that comes out of St. Louis' mouth.
"Move my feet, go into the dirty areas, do the things that coaches like,'' Conacher said. "That's what I've focused on.''
It has worked. Conacher's five goals have come in those so-called "dirty areas'' where you are as likely to find a punch in the schnozz as you are a loose puck. He has put up with the hacks and the whacks, checks and punches to put together an impressive start to his NHL career.
What Conacher means to St. Louis
Every time St. Louis notices something about Conacher's game — good or bad — he'll pull the kid aside and offer a piece of advice. Maybe it will be on the bench during a game. Maybe it will be in the locker room after practice. Maybe it will be over a bite to eat. Conacher is receptive, so St. Louis keeps talking.
And, let's get this straight: St. Louis isn't doing this because the two happen to shop in the same section of the men's store.
"I love his game. I love his energy,'' St. Louis said. "It's not because he is small. People compare him to me and it's not like I try to talk to him more because of that. Every guy that comes in here, if I see something, I want to help.''
For St. Louis, it's all about doing what a veteran is supposed to do.
"When I was a young player in this league,'' St. Louis said, "I had players to help make me see things. When you get older, you should pay it forward.''
Funny thing is, St. Louis doesn't know exactly what he has told Conacher.
"He probably remembers more of the stuff that I tell him than I remember telling him,'' St. Louis said with a smile.
What the two mean to the Lightning
After cleaning up at home with four wins in five games, the Lightning begins a tough four-game road trip tonight in Philadelphia. There's no reason to worry about St. Louis' game. It's not going anywhere. Conacher, meantime, is trying not to think too much about how well he has played.
"You can't really expect the start that I've had,'' he said. "It's been kind of a dream start. … Maybe in the summer, I'll pinch myself and say, 'Did that just happen?' But not now.''
St. Louis wouldn't mind seeing Conacher puff out his chest a bit.
"There is nothing wrong with having a swagger and believing in yourself.'' St. Louis said. "Eventually, people will believe in you because they see that you believe in yourself.''
Ultimately, St. Louis wants Conacher to do the same thing he does.
"Just assess your game honestly,'' St. Louis said. "If you can assess your game with honesty, you'll always get better. Players are always their biggest critics and if you're not, you're never going to get any better.''
If Conacher can be his own biggest critic then St. Louis will be his biggest fan.
Then the two little guys can continue being a very big deal for the Lightning.
tom jones' two cents