TAMPA — Every step throughout his career, every door that opened in front of him, Marty St. Louis pushed his way through.
After being passed over by major junior programs, he went on to be a Hobey Baker finalist at the University of Vermont. After being passed over by NHL teams, he became a two-time league scoring champion.
So, it wouldn’t surprise many if the Lightning captain, initially passed over by Team Canada for the 2014 Olympic squad before being named an injury replacement for Tampa Bay teammate Steven Stamkos, forces his way into the lineup and makes an impact when Canada opens today against Norway at Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi, Russia.
As usual, St. Louis will have to do it the hard way. He is expected either to dress as the 13th forward or be a healthy scratch to start the tournament after rotating in and out of fourth-line duties during initial practices in Sochi.
“Reality is, it doesn’t matter how you get there. You get there and then you grab your chunk of cheese by how well you play and how hard you play,” Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock said. “That determines on a nightly basis who gets to play.
“But if you go through his career, he’s been called out lots of times, that, ‘Hey, you’re too small to do this.’ And he’s just been determined. ... So, be a pro, be a real good teammate and battle your butt off in a competitive environment to get as much as you can to help your team. It’s not going to be about any one player.’’
St. Louis never hid his emotions when he was left off the initial Canadian roster on Jan. 7, even if he rarely discussed them in public. Instead, he helped pick up the Lightning, producing points in 14 of the next 16 games, including a career-high and franchise record-tying four goals against San Jose on Jan. 18.
Once Stamkos was not cleared medically to play 12 weeks after breaking his right tibia, St. Louis was the unanimous choice among the Canadian management staff and coaches to replace him on the team.
After telling Team Canada and Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman he needed a night to sleep on the decision, St. Louis accepted the invitation to compete in his second Olympics. St. Louis was also a member of the 2006 team that lost in the quarterfinals to Russia.
“As upset as you can be sometimes, it’s hard to turn down these opportunities,’’ St. Louis said. “You’ve got to realize you only get a few kicks at the can. You’ve got to put the emotion aside and realize the experience and the opportunity.
“However you get there, people don’t really care at that point, you’re just there. That’s kind of my mentality. I’m going to go there and bring what I can bring, do the things I’ve been doing in this league, play the game I play and try to make a difference.’’
Those who know him best, and have played with him, have no doubt St. Louis once again will find a way to factor into any success Canada enjoys during the Olympics.
“Marty is going to go over there and play whatever role possible,” Stamkos said. “I personally think he’s going to play a big role with the character that he has the way he has played in big game situations in the past.
“He’s won championships, he’s been in those situations, so it’s not like it’s a young guy that has never been in these situations coming in to fill in for someone.
“This is a guy that can step in and play any role asked and I think he’s going to play a big role in Canada doing very well.’’