Montreal Canadiens’ new interim-head coach says it’s the fulfillment of a dream

Hockey Hall-of-Famer Martin St-Louis first pulled on skates at Laval’s Aréna Samson

After all the excitement last week over news of the Montreal Canadiens’ appointing Martin St-Louis as the new interim-head coach of the Habs, let it not be forgotten that St-Louis – a 2018 inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame – has significant roots in Laval that stretch back to his childhood.

In April 2017, the City of Laval officially recognized the impact that Martin St-Louis had on this community when it chose to rename the Samson Arena in the district of Sainte-Dorothée the Aréna Martin St-Louis.

A renaming ceremony, attended by then-mayor Marc Demers as well local minor hockey supporters, marked the completion of a recent round of renovations at the arena, while also honouring the retired NHL right-winger whose name was mounted from that point on the arena’s front outside wall.

Started at Samson Arena

For St-Louis, who had retired two years before from the New York Rangers, it was a homecoming, since he got his start in hockey while playing at peewee and junior levels at the Samson Arena. Laval is indeed Martin St-Louis’s hometown, born and raised here by parents Normand and France St-Louis on Nadeau St. in the district of Saint-Martin.

The Habs new interim-head coach Martin St-Louis grew up in Laval’s Saint-Martin neighbourhood. (File photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

Never officially drafted into the NHL, despite his numerous hockey accomplishments, Martin St-Louis nonetheless began his professional career with the NHL’s Calgary Flames in 1998 and ended it with the New York Rangers in 2015. His longest stint, around 14 years, was with the Tampa Bay Lightning, for which he helped win the Stanley Cup in 2004.

A highly skilled player

In the tradition of hockey players such as the Montreal Canadiens’ Yvan ‘The Roadrunner’ Cournoyer, who reached the top in a sometimes brutal sport despite a relatively small stature, Martin St-Louis was also regarded as a highly-skilled player from the beginning of his career in college-level hockey, even though he was only 5’ 8” and weighed in at just over 180 lbs.

During his professional career, St-Louis played in six NHL All-Star games. In 2003-2004, he won the league player association’s Lester B. Pearson Award and the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player selected by other NHL players and league officials.

Leading NHL scorer

During the same period, he was also the NHL’s leading scorer with 94 points one year. Nine years ago at age 37, he had the distinction of being the oldest player in the NHL to again lead the league in scoring. And St-Louis was a member of Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The crowning achievement of Martin St-Louis’ career may well have been his formal entry into the Toronto-based Hockey Hall of Fame. Over a span of 17 seasons, he racked up 1,033 points in 1,134 games. During this time, he managed to win the Lady Byng Trophy for balancing skill and sportsmanship three times. He also won the Art Ross Trophy for points performance twice.

The Montreal Canadiens’ new interim-head coach Martin St-Louis did the honors of dropping the first puck during a junior league hockey match held in April 2017 when the City of Laval renamed the former Samson Arena in Sainte-Dorothée the Aréna Martin St-Louis. (File photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

Fulfilling a dream

Last week, following Habs management’s announcement that Martin St-Louis would step in to replace the fired Dominique Ducharme on an interim basis, St-Louis said he’d enjoyed the time he spent since retirement in the company of his family, but that the position with the Habs was the fulfillment of a dream.

“I’m very blessed to have such a great wife that again allowed me to pursue the thing that I always wanted,” he told journalists during an official announcement in Montreal. This was in spite of the well-known fact the Montreal Canadiens have sunk to a new depth among NHL teams, as the crew in very last place, after reaching the NHL playoffs last year.

Will be focusing on the job

Despite his dazzling career on the ice, something else that’s become a touchy point for Habs management is the fact Martin St-Louis has virtually no experience behind the bench as a professional coach. However, St-Louis said what helped him most as a player was his ability to focus on the task at hand while putting aside criticism.

Martin St-Louis has roots in Laval that stretch back to his childhood

“As an athlete, as a human, all that stuff that people want to doubt or talk and say and comment to me – it’s all noise,” he said. “There always been noise. Now, I’ve always been a guy that blocked the noise and gets after it and that’s what I intend to do.”