By Sean Hartnett
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39-year-old winger Martin St. Louis is preparing for his 16th season in the National Hockey League. Standing at the dressing-room entrance of the Rangers’ practice facility in Greenburgh, N.Y., a 360-degree panorama of memorable moments in Rangers history — including a photograph of Mark Messier lifting the Stanley Cup in 1994 — is wrapped around the ceiling above him.READ MORE: Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony Held In The Bronx's Little Italy
St. Louis came close to replicating memories of 1994 and nearly lifted his second career Stanley Cup last playoffs, as the determined Rangers were defeated by the Los Angeles Kings in five games. It was a series that could have swung in the opposite direction had a few breaks went the Blueshirts’ way. Three of the Rangers’ Stanley Cup defeats were decided in either single or double overtime.
Of course, all of the Stanley Cup heartbreak is behind St. Louis and the Rangers. The 2014-15 season will bring new challenges, and St. Louis is preparing the same way he has every training camp and preseason. At the Prentiss Hockey Performance in Darien, Conn., St. Louis pushed his body to the limit through excruciating 8 a.m. lower-body workouts that included weight-release back squats, sled pushes and weighted sled sprints.
St. Louis isn’t just making sure that his body stays ahead of the curve at 39. He’s meticulous about every detail during training camp, down to ensuring that all his gear fits perfectly so that his body and equipment are working in perfect harmony.
“Training camp is about getting ready for the regular season,” St. Louis said. “You need to put your time in, your work in. You’ve got new gear you’ve got to break, you’ve got new sticks and skates. You just try to make sure everything fits perfectly so you’re all dialed in for the start of the season.”
St. Louis playfully pokes fun at his combination of graying and white hair that he calls his “salt-and-pepper look.”
“I’ve had this look for a while,” St. Louis joked.
Despite his advanced hockey age, St. Louis feels like a young 39. As evidenced by on-ice testing held during camp, his body is in excellent condition.
“I know I’m 39, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel like,” St. Louis said. “I feel really good, and my testing shows that I feel really good. I’m trying to approach it as just a number and go play. For the last four or five years, everybody says, ‘He’s going to slow down and this and that.’ I haven’t felt like that.”
He has noticed forwards such as Jaromir Jagr and recently-retired winger Teemu Selanne playing at a high level into their early 40s. This challenge is one that excites St. Louis.
“Now, I look at guys like Jagr and Selanne — guys who played well into their 40s,” St. Louis said. “Well, if they did it, why can’t I? Of course, it’s something that I look at. But I’m not trying to be a Jagr or a Selanne. I’m trying to be myself and play my game.”
ST. LOUIS RECALLS ROOKIE MEMORIES AND ROLE MODELS
There was a time when a wide-eyed St. Louis looked up to big-name veterans in the Calgary Flames’ dressing room as a 23-year-old rookie.
“I remember when I was a young guy,” St. Louis said. “It’s not like I was going to the veterans and asking about them. It’s nice when the veteran would step out of their way and come and talk to you about things.”
St. Louis began to recall his memories of his early years in Calgary. He rattled off the names of Stanley Cup-winning veterans whom he would soon become close with in the Flames’ dressing room.
“When I was young, I played with some wily vets in Calgary,” St. Louis said. “I played with Grant Fuhr, Kenny Wregget, I played with Steve Smith. Those are the guys who went out of their way. You talk about life — where are you from? Where do you live in the summer? Where did you play in college? The next day, you talk about something else. On the ice, it’s about being trusted in a relationship. You don’t do that by just shaking hands.”
Trade winds brought St. Louis to Tampa Bay ahead of the 2000-01 season. One year later, he would be joined by respected veteran winger Dave Andreychuk, a teammate who would serve as an important role model.
“When I first played with him I was 26,” St. Louis said. “He was in his late 30s. I wasn’t a rookie, but I was a young guy. When a guy comes in that’s played probably 1,200 games, you want to just be around whenever he’s opening his mouth and know all the stories they have.”READ MORE: Small Business Owners Say Shopping Locally Is More Important Than Ever Amid COVID, Supply Chain Struggles
St. Louis’ game would soon blossom thanks to the guiding hand of Anderychuk and his own incredible determination. In 2003-04, he became a 94-point player and won the Art Ross Trophy for the first time in his career. St. Louis caught fire during the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs, scoring 24 points in 23 postseason games and helping Andreychuk lift a career-defining Stanley Cup at age 40.
Now, it’s Marty’s duty to pass on all the wisdom he’s collected during his remarkable 16-year career to young Rangers eager to pick his brain. It’s a role that St. Louis enjoys greatly.
“I enjoy that,” St. Louis said. “It’s fun. You get to know the guys.”
ST. LOUIS SERVES AS A MENTOR FOR YOUNG RANGERS
Winger Chris Kreider, 23, looked up to St. Louis as a youngster growing up in Boxford, Mass. It wasn’t until St. Louis arrived in New York on the March 5 trade deadline that Kreider truly understood all of the positive elements that St. Louis brings to a dressing room.
“I grew up with a Marty St. Louis poster in my bedroom,” Kreider said. “It was very cool for me when he came over. As an opponent, you see the player, but you don’t realize what a good person he is.”
Now as St. Louis’ teammate, Kreider has seen one of his idols suddenly become a key mentor in his flourishing career.
“Marty does wonders for the young guys and for the locker room in general,” he said. “He’s so helpful.”
Kreider sees a lot of youth in St. Louis’ approach to the game. Even at 39, St. Louis is one of the last players off the ice, and he often stays on late to work on extra drills.
“He’s a kid out there,” Kreider said. “It’s his passion. He’s going to get off the ice when they kick him off the ice. That’s fun. That’s something he instills in a lot of guys. It’s great to see.”
21-year-old J.T. Miller could be a youngster whom the Rangers count on heavily this season. Miller has shined throughout training camp and the preseason. He has arguably been the most outstanding Ranger through two preseason games.
Miller arrived early to camp to take part in early informal workouts and is shedding a negative reputation that once surrounded him. He has adopted a more mature attitude after being called out by head coach Alain Vigneault last April.
Whenever he has the opportunity, Miller will take notice of how St. Louis conducts himself on and off the ice. He’s sought out St. Louis, and that can only benefit his development.
“Whenever I get the chance, I pick his brain about skills and stuff,” Miller said. “As a young guy, I pay attention to what he does on the rink and how he treats himself away from the ice. Anything I can take from that will be helpful.”
It’s difficult to tell how long St. Louis will continue on. Judging by his incredible work habits and his zestful enthusiasm, it’s very likely he will play well beyond the age of 40 and will continue to educate and inspire teammates.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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