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Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Marty St. Louis carries Rangers with heavy heart

TAMPA — Marty St. Louis doesn’t live in here anymore. He doesn’t play hockey here anymore. Some people still can’t fathom what went down with Marty and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Some people will never forgive him for not finishing his career here.

Forget that for a moment.

I was pulling for Marty to score a hundred goals in his past two playoff games.

As it turned out, he scored one — and it was enough. Sunday in New York, Marty St. Louis had the first goal for the Rangers early in Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, setting the emotional tone for New York’s 3-1 win that tied this Eastern Conference semifinal series at three games apiece.

On Mother’s Day.

“I know she helped me through this,” Marty said after the game.

You can still have heart, even when it’s broken.

Marty’s mother, France, died on Thursday. Heart attack. She was just 63, far too young.

Marty went home to Laval, just outside of Montreal, after his mom passed. But his father, Normand, and the rest of his family urged him on, and he flew to Pittsburgh on Friday for Game 5, which the Rangers won. Marty said his mom would want him to be with his team. Then there was Sunday, Marty looking for his father, sister and wife after his goal at Madison Square Garden, scooping up the puck so he could keep it.

Marty always had heart. It’s what got him to the NHL despite his size. It’s what made him the best player in hockey the year the Bolts won the Stanley Cup. It’s what will make him a Hall of Famer. Heart made Marty, well, Marty. It will take time, but that’s eventually how he’ll be remembered around here — so much heart.

And so much of that came from Mom.

France St. Louis was 4 feet, 11 inches tall. She looked as if she’d fallen off a charm bracelet. I spoke with her a few times after Lightning games. She always beamed when Marty was mentioned. Actually, France pretty much beamed all the time.

“Sweet as molasses,” said Bill Wickett, Lightning executive vice president of marketing and communication.

Normand and France St. Louis would drive down from Quebec to Tampa every winter, pulling an RV. They were proud parents and grandparents, always helping with Marty and his wife Heather’s three young boys, always at their youth hockey games at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.

Brenda McKinnon, the general manager at the Ice Sports Forum, knew Normand and France. It seems they were always at the building, with Marty’s boys, Ryan, Lucas and Mason.

“France was always smiling, always happy,” McKinnon said. “She’d walk in the door and you’d automatically get a hug and a kiss-kiss on each check. She would sit in the lobby and talk to the parents. Always smiling. That’s the biggest thing I remember.

“Marty was the apple of her eye. When she would talk about Marty, she would glow. Marty loved to hear us talk about his mom, how much we adored her. He would just break into a smile. … He loved his mom so much.”

Yes, there was real fallout, maybe even permanent damage, when Marty asked for and received a trade to the Rangers. You can even measure it at Brandon’s Ice Sports Forum, in the tiniest faces. In the past, every little kid wanted to wear a No. 26 jersey.

“This year, no one wanted one,” McKinnon said. “That hurt me.”

It will take time.

And New York hasn’t been a sleigh ride for St. Louis. He scored only one goal in 21 games after joining the Rangers. After a good opening-round playoff series against the Flyers, he came up empty, no points, as Pittsburgh jumped to a 3-1 series lead. Chronically restless Rangers fans booed St. Louis every time he touched the puck in the third period of Pittsburgh’s Game 4 win.

Then came Game 5, Marty playing in pain, inspiring his teammates, and a lot of other people, without so much as a goal or assist.

Sunday, the chant of “Marty!” echoed in the hall long before and after his Mother’s Day gift. Marty St. Louis was named first star of the game. He tapped his chest in salute as he made a quick circle on the ice and fans roared some more.

Game 7 is tonight in Pittsburgh. The funeral service for France will be Saturday in Laval.

No, we don’t look at Marty exactly the same as before.

It will take time.

But never forget his heart, and a moment straight from it — for Mom.

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