TAMPA – Tonight, in Toronto, the Hockey Hall of Fame inducts its 2018 class.
Martin St. Louis, 43, the mighty mite, undersized but unstoppable, undeniable, irresistible, will be surrounded by family, friends, former teammates and coaches. I'd be stunned if the Tampa Bay Lightning, which knows how to do it right, doesn't bring a caravan from Buffalo, where the team plays Tuesday.
Vinny Lecavalier and Brad Richards will be there, and Dave Andreychuk, captain of the Lightning's 2004 Cup winner and a 2017 hall inductee. There are current Lightning players you know want to attend, like St. Louis' friend Steven Stamkos, who succeeded him as captain after St. Louis was traded to the Rangers in 2014.
St. Louis' 13 seasons in Tampa Bay were remarkable. Marty is the man who made the Lightning go, the best player in franchise history, who proved so many people wrong on his way to the top of the hockey world, who propelled a Cup winner and who worked as if something was gaining on him. It never caught up.
"I don't remember the exact time I first met him," said Stamkos, who played nearly six seasons with St. Louis after the Lightning drafted him first overall in 2008. "But I remember thinking, 'Man, that guy's got big
"It was his determination," said Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who played five seasons with St. Louis after being drafted second overall in 2009. "He was the hardest-working guy in practice and in games. Always wanted the most out of himself. It rubbed off on a lot of guys on this team, a lot of guys in this league.
"I had my ups and downs to begin my career. But just looking at him, trying to follow his footsteps, that meant so much. He was determined not to get knocked down, and when he did, he got up. And he lifted a lot of people up with the way he carried himself."
Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh was St. Louis' teammate in New York.
"For me, I was amazed at how hard he worked at his age (he was 39 when he was traded), even after he'd become a star," McDonagh said. "Coming in after a game, whether you won or lost, no matter how he played, he'd remember one or two plays where he'd missed a shot or a pass to somebody. He'd go up to that guy and say, 'Small bucket for me tomorrow, small bucket.' A small bucket of pucks, to work on his game."
Lightning forward Alex Killorn played two seasons with St. Louis.
"Listen, he had a ton of talent," Killorn said. "But he had to overcome more than most people. He never rested on his laurels. Marty never rested."
"He was really the guy who took me under his wing," Stamkos said. "Marty was a guy, you kind of had to earn his respect a little bit in terms of showing him how hard you wanted to work, how much you wanted to get better and help the team get better. It just wasn't a given for him. That's because of what he had to go through in his career. As a young guy, to have a role model like that, it makes it a lot easier. It was all the little things he taught me, how to be the ultimate professional."
In 2014, after the trade, St. Louis helped lead the Rangers to the Stanley Cup final, which included him playing with a broken heart after losing his mother, the indomitable France, during a playoff series with Pittsburgh. Marty led the way in that series win. And he scored a goal — on Mother's Day.
"It's tough to put into words what he did," said McDonagh. "We didn't expect him to be there for us. We wanted him to be with his family and loved ones. He chose to be with us. It was pretty inspiring. He never gave up on himself. He never gave up on anything."
"I got to go up and train with him for a few days one summer in Connecticut," Stamkos said. "We were scheduled to work out, then go play some golf. I remember we were pushing this sled on the pavement. It had a ton of weight on it. We were both on our backs at the end, gasping for air. That was like anything with Marty. You don't do anything unless you do it.
"That image just sticks in my head, both of us on the ground, on our backs, not being able to say anything for a couple of minutes, then slowly making our way back to our feet. I remember thinking, 'We're really going to go golf after this?' "
Senators coach Guy Boucher coached St. Louis on the Lightning for 21/2 seasons.
"He was never satisfied," Boucher said. "He was always looking for more. He was looking for it all. I remember he'd talk about his mom. He had doubters, with his size (around 5 feet 8) and all, but she'd tell him, 'You show them, Marty, you show them.'
"I remember we had just played in three games in four nights. Guys are exhausted. On Sunday, both of our kids were playing hockey in Brandon. I'd just go through my office, sit in the balcony and watch. I get up there and I hear noise. I hear action in the gym. Marty was in there, working out, sweat pouring off him, going hard, and not for show. It was nothing he had to do, but it was all that he was. That was Martin St. Louis."
That was Marty, who'd ride with the equipment staff to the arena after the Lightning's charter would land in a city so he could work on his sticks and skates at 1 in the morning, while mere mortals slept.
"He thought the game," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who worked with St. Louis for roughly a year. "Everything was always churning in Marty. That's why I think he's a coach now. Marty was always dissecting."
But there also was the mischievous Marty, the Marty who would rush off the bus at the hotel and grab someone else's room key so he could jump out and scare them when they went into their room, the Marty who would zip himself in stick bags, then pop out to give an unsuspecting teammate a jolt.
"With the size advantage he had as far as hiding spaces, he had way more of them than the average guy," Stamkos said, grinning. "That's the thing. Lots of people knew Marty as this fierce competitor, which he was. But he was the king. He had great dance moves. He was the king of handstands around the (locker) room. He loved to have a good time, loved to hang out with the guys. You just always wanted to be around the guy."
A lot of them will be around the guy tonight. Here's to big calves and small buckets. Unstoppable. Undeniable. Irresistible. Marty St. Louis showed them. Man, did he show them.
Contact Martin Fennelly at email@example.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.
Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony, 8, Toronto
Inductees: Marty St. Louis, Martin Brodeur, Jayna Hefford, Alexander Yakushev, Willie O'Ree, Gary Bettman
TV: 8, NHL Network