Tampa Bay Lightning All-Stars Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos are a perfect match

Lightning All-Stars Marty St. Louis, left, and Steven Stamkos are teammates (for three seasons), linemates (since January 2009) and good friends. Some insight into St. Louis: “He’s a great dancer,” Stamkos says.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning All-Stars Marty St. Louis, left, and Steven Stamkos are teammates (for three seasons), linemates (since January 2009) and good friends. Some insight into St. Louis: “He’s a great dancer,” Stamkos says.

One player is chasing NHL superstardom; the other is showing him the path.

One player will not give in to the inevitability of aging; the other pushes him to keep up.

Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis are joined at the hip in those endeavours.

Lightning teammates for three seasons and linemates since January 2009, they are catalysts for each other's success on the ice and, despite a 15-year age difference, are good friends off it.

How appropriate, then, they will play together, presumably on the same line for Team Lidstrom, in today's All-Star Game at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C.

"There is nothing better than going to an All-Star Game with a teammate," St. Louis said. "It's his first, and I'm glad to be alongside him."

It has been a match made in hockey heaven.

Stamkos, who turns 21 on Feb. 7, saw his career take off after then-coach Rick Tocchet paired the struggling rookie center, the No. 1 pick of the 2008 draft, with St. Louis.

St. Louis, 35 and in his sixth All-Star Game, has played some of the best hockey of his career, even better than when he was the 2003-04 league MVP.

Stamkos leads the league with 38 goals and 67 points.

St. Louis leads with 23 power-play assists and is second with 40 assists and fifth with 60 points.

"Two of the hardest-working guys I've ever played with," linemate Steve Downie said. "Every practice, every shift they want to get better. They have great chemistry. They always know where the other is on the ice, and they do the little things all the time. That's what makes them good."

"I just try to keep him young, and he teaches me," Stamkos said. "It's a great relationship."

• • •

Stamkos and St. Louis are not the likeliest of friends.

Age, and the different perspectives it brings, is one thing. But as coach Guy Boucher pointed out, Stamkos lives a bachelor life in downtown Tampa while St. Louis lives in the suburbs with wife Heather and their three sons.

The priorities, Boucher said, would just seem to be different.

"But he's a mature kid, so you don't feel like you're that far apart," St. Louis said. "The friendship developed over time."

The development came through discussions while sitting at adjoining lockers at the St. Pete Times Forum, on the ice after practices when St. Louis noticed the kid working so hard to get better, and during bonding road-trip dinners.

"When I came into the league, that's an intimidating guy, that's Marty St. Louis," Stamkos said. "You have to gain his respect, and I've been able to do that. It brings our friendship even closer."

So close that St. Louis trusted Stamkos to babysit his kids for a while on Friday's flight from Tampa to Raleigh.

So close that Stamkos discovered a few things about his friend:

"People don't know how Marty is away from the rink. You see this real serious guy who's always focused, you don't realize he's one of the funniest guys on the team. He's a jokester. That helps keep his game young. He's young at heart. There's always a smile on his face. He's always dancing around the room."

Speaking of which, "He's a great dancer," Stamkos said. "He downplays it, but he's one of the best on the team. He can go disco style, but he's got the modern stuff down, too. He's versatile."

• • •

Do good personal relationships help players in games? Boucher believes so.

"You realize guys want to fight for each other and they care how they do, so a lot more help is given," he said. "It creates a lot more opportunities for guys to share stuff."

And that is the bottom line with Stamkos and St. Louis.

Stamkos needed a mentor who could skate with him and who had playmaking skill to bring out his talent as a finisher. St. Louis, with four years left on his contract, needed someone to remind him not to let his intensity slip.

"The day you stop trying to get better, your game is going to start sliding," St. Louis said. "When you are around young guys, you tend to feel younger, and I have one of the best in the game play alongside me. We force each other to move."

"He showed me how hard you have to work in this league," Stamkos said. "Marty is demanding. Playing on his line, you want to live up to his standards, so there are times we have to push each other. When you have that friendship, you know you can be harder on each other. When you're not good friends, you feel like you don't want to step on anybody's toes.

"Here, we're always trying to make each other better."

Tampa Bay Lightning All-Stars Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos are a perfect match 01/29/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 29, 2011 10:53pm]

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