TAMPA, Fla. — Marty St. Louis is going to the Olympics after all.
On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Lightning winger was named to Team Canada as teammate Steven Stamkos’ replacement for the Sochi Games. The announcement was made less than a day after Stamkos center underwent a CT scan that revealed his right tibia had not healed sufficiently to make the trip to Russia.
”I’m just happy I’m getting the opportunity,” St. Louis said. ”I feel my whole career — I came into this league with kind of a backdoor entrance. It’s kind of the same way. I’m going to go over there and bring what I can bring and do the things I’ve been doing here in this league.”
The news brings closure to the situation, made awkward by the fact that Steve Yzerman, Tampa Bay’s vice president and general manager, is also Team Canada’s general manager. However, Yzerman chose to stick with the committee’s decision when St. Louis was left off the initial roster last month.
Back then, the choice did not sit well with St. Louis. In his brief words on the topic, told to reporters Jan. 7 in Winnipeg, he said, ”You guys can imagine how I feel, obviously, I’m extremely disappointed, and I’ll just leave it at that.”
St. Louis said he heard from Yzerman on Wednesday about taking Stamkos’ place on the roster. This will be St. Louis’ second Olympics, following his participation in the 2006 Turin Games, where Team Canada lost to Russia in the quarterfinals.
”I think anybody that knows me knows that I’m a pretty emotional guy,” St. Louis said. ”There has been a lot of that this past month. To get that call — I already heard from Stammer that he was a no-go, so I knew it was a possibility. I guess I was prepared for it.
”As upset as you can be sometimes, it’s hard to turn down this opportunity. You’ve got to realize that you only get a few kicks at the can. You’ve got to put the emotion aside.”
St. Louis, 38, has appeared to do so. He has done an admirable job keeping the Lightning in contention with Stamkos out since the Nov. 11 injury in Boston. He leads Tampa Bay in points (54), assists (29) and goals (25).
Entering the Lightning’s game Thursday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Times Forum, they stood third in the Eastern Conference with 69 points.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper made a point to say this was no setback for Stamkos. Stamkos will continue to rehab in the Tampa area during the Olympic break, and he will be reevaluated in two to three weeks.
Cooper said he hoped Stamkos, who had a metal rod inserted into the affected leg, would use the upcoming break to rest his mind. However, Stamkos said he was eager to continue to work hard for a return.
Stamkos, 23, has missed 39 regular-season games to this point. He had 23 points and 14 goals before his injury.
”It’s well-deserved,” Cooper said of St. Louis.
”The sad thing about when that team was announced was people didn’t embrace the people that made the team. All that really got talked about was the people who were left off, and I think that’s an extremely tough job what Steve (Yzerman) and his management team had to do. But I truly believe everybody that’s on that team, including Marty, deserved to be there.”
Before Wednesday, Stamkos had appeared on track to make a return for Tampa Bay and appear in the Olympics. He made significant progress in recent weeks, a period in which he took part in multiple physical practices with teammates.
On Monday, he said he eyed a return against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday at Tampa Bay Times Forum, the final game before the Olympic break. But Dr. Ira Guttentag, Tampa Bay’s head team physician, was unable to clear Stamkos for game participation.
”I don’t see this as Marty replacing me,” Stamkos said. ”I see this as Marty deserving a spot on this team and going over and, hopefully, bringing back a gold medal."
"I’m disappointed for Stammer," Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said. "Obviously, Stammer wanted to be on the team. He was selected to be on the team. He would have been an outstanding contributor to the team."
One option closes, another opens. St. Louis said he had travel plans with family during the Olympic break. However, his schedule has changed.
After nearly a month of drama related to the Team Canada announcement, St. Louis will become an Olympian. Many thought he deserved the title all along.
”I’m there,” St. Louis said. ”This is a big opportunity, and I’m going to make the best of it.”
FOX Sports Florida’s Erin Brown contributed to this report