Vermont’s little big man

Their names hang from the rafters at the University of Vermont’s Gutterson Arena: Catamounts who went on to careers in the NHL. Tim Thomas, John LeClair, Aaron Miller and others are remembered with banners hanging above the ice. Martin St. Louis’ name is up there, too, and his story is worth telling.


St. Louis’ career has been one to which any young player who may not stretch to the 6-6 aerie of the Gophers’ Nick Bjugstad should pay attention. St. Louis, who’s listed at 5-8, didn’t even get chosen for a provincial midget tournament in his youth. Major junior teams weren’t interested, either. Eventually he generated plenty of interest from Division I college teams because of his speed and ability as a natural scorer. The rest is hockey history along the shores of Lake Champlain. St. Louis and linemate Eric Perrin along with goalie Tim Thomas propelled Vermont to its first ECAC title and a trip to the 1996 NCAA Frozen Four.

Lost to Lucia: The Catamounts lost a double-overtime thriller in that NCAA semifinal tilt to Colorado College, which was then helmed by Gophers ice boss Don Lucia. (A controversial game in several ways, not least being the slush at one end of the rink that built up after an arena attendant inadvertently drilled all the way through the ice AND the concrete floor and into the building’s coolant system while reinstalling the nets!)

Early pro setbacks: Then there was the challenge of professional hockey. No one wanted St. Louis despite his obvious scoring touch. Finally, Calgary signed him to a tryout deal, and when he lit it up in the minors as a Cleveland Lumberjack, St. Louis got the call to the NHL. After an uneven run in Calgary, he was left unprotected in the 2000 NHL expansion draft. Finally picked up by Tampa Bay, he struggled until reportedly ditching some advice NHL coaches had been giving him and starting to trust his gut. Result: a 40-point 2000-01 season, 34 of which came after his change of approach in December.

Proof that sticking with it despite adversities — both biological and organizational — can pay off is included in the rest of the Martin St. Louis resume. He now owns a 2004 Stanley Cup ring, has been an NHL All Star, two-time Hobey Baker Award finalist and  been awarded the NHL Lester Pearson and Hart Memorial MVP trophies, the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer (a 94 point assault on the scorebooks) and the Lady Byng Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player. He’s also played for Team Canada at the Olympics and helped win the 2004 World Cup.

Last season, despite missing five games with a friendly-fire facial injury, St. Louis — at age 36 — tallied 74 points in 77 games.

And now what? Like every other NHL player, Marty St. Louis is waiting and wondering what will become of the 2012-13 season. He isn’t alone among a cadre of older veterans who also wonder if the lockout could end their careers. If the season blows up, that’s entirely possible.

Check back Thursday when I’ll set the table for the Gophers’ week-after-Thanksgiving tilt with the team formerly known as Nebraska-Omaha, which now wants to brand itself simply “Omaha”. I’ll explain why. And make a date to join Kevin Gorg and me for all the action next Friday and Saturday on Fox Sports North!