TAMPA — The easiest thing Marty St. Louis ever did was get elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He had to fight for everything else, prove himself over and over, and then he was selected in his first year of eligibility.
"It's funny because everything came hard for me, I feel, especially early on in my career," he said Wednesday. "Nothing was ever given to me. I feel like this was almost like, 'Oh my god, they gave that to me.' "
That's because St. Louis, whom the Lightning recognized with a video before he performed the ceremonial puck drop ahead of Wednesday's game against the Panthers, had already done the hard work. He did enough in his 16-year career — more than 12 of which were spent in Tampa Bay — that he was unarguably referred to as a future Hall of Famer before he even retired in 2015.
When the day finally came Nov. 12, St. Louis had to fight to tamp down the emotions. Just sitting down at the ceremony, it all hit him. Then when the Lightning players and staff came out to the side of the stage, he got choked up.
Then "I got a little choked up," St. Louis said, when he was presented with his Hall plaque by Dave Andreychuk, a Hall of Famer who captained the Lightning's 2004 Stanley Cup-winning team that included St. Louis.
"Of course, Dave's like, 'Just relax, just relax.' Those are great emotions to feel because it's real. It's special," St. Louis said at a morning news conference at Amalie Arena, where the record-setting forward's Lightning jersey was retired last year.
Whenever he talks about his parents and their impact on him, the emotions are clear. Being on the stage, talking about his mom, who died during the 2014 playoffs while he was with the Rangers, and looking at his wife and sons, it all "crashed together."
It meant a lot to St. Louis to see the 20-person Lightning contingent that made the quick trip to Toronto from Buffalo, N.Y., where Tampa Bay played the next night. It was another chance to share something special with players who were his teammates, including Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. That was the best part of hockey for him, being with his teammates in the back of the bus or plane. That so many players and staff members showed up from the Lightning represented more than hockey. It was a sign of friendship.
"I know I was high maintenance," St. Louis said. "I wasn't high maintenance and a jerk kind of guy, I just, I was particular with my stuff and those (equipment) guys could help me. I couldn't sew!"
It means a lot to St. Louis that, being a smaller player — he's listed at 5 feet 8 — he was able to inspire another generation of smaller players. He looked up to players like Mats Naslund and Theo Flury, now players like the Lightning's Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde call him a role model.
"It looks so hard to get and gets almost easier to touch, because you associate with people who are similar to you size-wise or whatever," St. Louis said. "For me, the fact that I was inspired by people and then you get to inspire others is a pretty cool thing to go through."
St. Louis isn't sure what's next for him in terms of the NHL, but he still has hockey games every weekend, standing behind the bench while his sons play.
He leaves Tampa to fly back to his home in Connecticut for a Thanksgiving meal with his family, and then he and his middle son fly to Toronto for a tournament. At least one of his three sons is playing every weekend. When all three are playing, St. Louis' father comes to town to help play man-to-man defense.
"People ask, 'Do you miss the game?' " St. Louis said. "And I don't. I get to compete every weekend. It's strategy and being on the bench with them. It's unbelievable."
Maybe someday St. Louis will do that in the pro ranks, but for now, he's happy sharing it with them.