Canadiens’ loss in Martin St. Louis’ absence felt largely irrelevant

Caufield vs Flames scaled e1710648916766

CALGARY — Montreal Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis has a number of catchphrases, “Martyisms” if you will, that he repeats often.

One is that “the league doesn’t care,” and it is one he pulls out whenever commenting on an injury, a key player missing from the lineup, but he probably never imagined it would one day apply to his own absence.

The Calgary Flames proved his point on the ice Saturday night, beating the Canadiens 5-2 after St. Louis had to suddenly leave the team to attend to a family matter. But really, it’s not true. The league does care and is concerned for someone so universally liked and admired, and it made the result of that game somewhat irrelevant.

Canadiens assistant coach Trevor Letowski was informed after dinner Friday night in Calgary that he would be stepping in for St. Louis, and he had a number of conversations with him over the course of the day Saturday. But this coaching staff is a close-knit group, one that holds a bond through the commonality that runs through it. St. Louis, Letowski, Alexandre Burrows and Stéphane Robidas all had long NHL careers, none of them were high draft picks — St. Louis and Burrows were in fact undrafted — and they all carved out their niche in the league through will, hard work and a constant desire to improve.

They are values the staff has tried to impart to the Canadiens players, and they are values St. Louis deeply believes in. He is the unquestioned leader of the team, the face of the franchise in many ways, and for him to suddenly be going through something that is far bigger than the game must hurt everyone inside the team.

That is the one reason the result of this game was in fact not irrelevant, because one of the primary ways the Canadiens players and coaching staff could show St. Louis how much they care would have been to win this game for him.

“There’s a lot of care in that room,” Letowski said, “and we talked a little bit about how our culture is growing and how much as a staff we’re proud of the team of how much they care about each other, and I think they showed it in going through this the last 24 hours, how much they really care about Marty and everybody.

“It wasn’t from lack of effort, that’s for sure tonight.”

A private family matter should remain private, but that is difficult when you are such a public figure. There is no one in the province of Québec who gets more air time on television and radio, who is quoted more in print, than the head coach of the Canadiens, and that is made even more true when you are as compelling a public speaker as St. Louis, as passionate and engaged a Canadiens ambassador as he is.

The respect St. Louis has in his dressing room was evident by how each of the players who faced the media after the game tiptoed around a subject that is obviously going to be asked about. They did not want to violate a trust.

“There are always things that are bigger than hockey,” defenceman Mike Matheson said. “We’re going to respect his privacy and hope everything goes well for him and his family.”

Captain Nick Suzuki was so concerned about violating that trust he basically repeated the same line twice.

“It was business as usual,” he said, “but obviously missing him and hoping and wishing for the best for him.”

He repeated the same line in his next answer. We will leave it at that.

Defenceman David Savard let it slip during an intermission interview on TVA Sports that they were trying to get a win for St. Louis’ son. It is difficult to watch your words when you are on camera moments after being in the heat of battle, so he deserves a pass on that, and he must have felt awful afterward.

None of this is easy because the players and coaches have a job to do, a job St. Louis takes so seriously. He lives in Montreal alone. His oldest son, Ryan, plays at Brown University. His middle son, Lucas, plays for Dubuque in the USHL and is heading to Harvard in the fall. And his youngest son, Mason, plays for the Mid-Fairfield Rangers in Connecticut.

Any chance St. Louis gets to see his family, he takes it. He watches all of his sons’ games online, once doing so during the rookie tournament in Buffalo as the Canadiens’ rookies were on the ice right in front of him. When the Canadiens played their final game before the Christmas break in Chicago, as the team boarded the bus for the airport, St. Louis was taking a car service to catch a flight back home to see his family.

“I’m looking forward to (being) with my family for three or four days,” he said that night. “I miss them a lot, so it’s going to be nice to be together.”

It is difficult to imagine what St. Louis is going through right now, but hopefully he knows he is in everyone’s thoughts.

Another “Martyism” is that “the league doesn’t stop,” and that’s true. The Canadiens flew to Edmonton after the game Saturday to prepare to face the powerhouse Oilers on Tuesday because, indeed, the league does not stop. His coaching staff will need to do it without him, even though he will surely have a hand in whatever the Canadiens do to prepare for the Oilers and recover from this misstep in Calgary.

“The league’s moving fast, and you have no choice,” Letowski said. “It’s an emotional time, no question. You just have to dig in and just grind it out, and we had a job to do to fill some big shoes with Marty’s absence. We tried everything we could to do that. I think being a former player in the league, I would say, you lean on that a bit because you can’t be around this league, whether you’re in coaching or if you’re player, without constant adversity and ups and downs. I thought we handled it as well as we could.”

St. Louis is gone for an indefinite period, and he should take all the time he needs because ultimately this thing he cares so much about, this league and this game he is so passionate about, doesn’t matter all that much. What he is doing now matters far more.

The league does care. St. Louis is wrong on that front.

(Photo of Cole Caufield trying to score on Dustin Wolf: Leah Hennel / Getty Images)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top