Once again, we’re reminded there are things in life that are bigger than hockey.
As a Penguins fan, it hurt watching the Penguins get spanked by the Rangers Friday night in game 5. It was difficult to watch a team come out so flat at home with a chance to close out a series. It was frustrating to hear the boos from thousands of people who spent a significant amount of their income to attend the game. All they got was a front row seat to their favorite team getting embarrassed in their own building.
However, as a Penguins fan it was also a blessing to see what the boys did for Martin St. Louis.
In case you haven’t heard, St. Louis’ mother, France, unexpectedly passed away on Thursday. She was 63 years old. No one would have questioned St. Louis if he had decided to stay at home in Montreal and be with his family. Players have missed games for far less, but St. Louis decided he wanted to be with his team and take the ice just 24 hours removed from one of the worst days of his life.
People love to rag on Sidney Crosby, but what he did for his Olympic teammate before Friday’s game exasperated nothing but shear class. Crosby seeked out St. Louis and found him warming up on an exercise bike. He shook his hand and had a brief conversation with him, which was caught on camera – you can view the footage here.
What amazes me is that St. Louis has only been with the Rangers for a few months. Remember, he was traded for Ryan Callahan at the trade deadline. This isn’t the Lightning team that St. Louis played the majority of his career with, it’s dozens of new faces and a completely different atmosphere than that of Tampa Bay, Florida. I’m sure he’s found camaraderie, but anyone who has played juniors can tell you that getting a player midseason is always a transition.
However, hockey players are a strange breed.
St. Louis decided to take the ice and his brothers in red, white and blue followed him out onto the ice at Consol Energy Center. The Rangers came out flying and dominated the Penguins in the opening period. They gained a two-goal lead and the Penguins never recovered. It’s impossible to be certain what it was that made the Rangers the most energized they’ve been all season, but I’m sure it had something to do with St. Louis. When one of the boys is struggling off the ice, it’s amazing how it translates on the ice.
The beauty of the game is that it allows us to take our minds off of the rest of the world and be free for a couple of hours. When one of my best friends passed away during the summer heading into my junior year of high school, I decided that I was no longer just playing for myself. At the end of every national anthem, I would get on one knee, touch the ice, hit my heart and then point up to the sky and say the same thing.
“I know you’re watching down on us, I miss you and I love you.”
During my senior season, I scored in overtime against our rivals in the playoffs and I broke away from my teammates so I could point to him. At the time, it was the biggest goal of my career – I wanted him to share the moment with me.
Martin St. Louis’ story isn’t sad because his mother passed away, it’s sad because it was so unexpected. In this world, we will all eventually flatline, but being able to say goodbye is the only thing we can ever ask for. Some of us will be lucky to do so, but some of us sadly won’t.
I have always respected St. Louis. He was a player that was told he would never make it. He’s only 5-foot-8 and went undrafted, yet he’s been in the league since 1997 and at 38 years old is one of the elite players in the game. The fact that he decided to play on Friday night makes me respect him even more.
We all have our own ways for handling tragedies, and for most hockey players, it’s taking the ice when no one else thinks you should. St. Louis flew back to Montreal to be with his family, then flew back to Pittsburgh to play with his brothers.
Marty, you’re the man.