The ongoing hoopla surrounding Wednesday night's game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and former Bolt Martin St. Louis (and also, the New York Rangers) hit another level today when St. Louis spoke to the Tampa Bay media for the first time since leaving the Lightning after demanding a trade to the New York Rangers last March.
He didn't address the particulars of why he made what his decision to leave, saying "I'm not going to revisit that topic", or even say anything you haven't probably already seen in articles published elsewhere, but he did speak.
On what's strange about returning to the arena for the first time:
"Walking in to the rink you see all the familiar faces of all the people who took really good care of me for many years. You say your hello and obviously its weird to go past the (home) dressing room and not take a left turn. But you move on. I think its going to special for me to play here tomorrow. It was 13, 14 great years. I look back at it and I grew up here pretty much as a professional so to come back here and play here, it's going to be special. I know sometimes people are not happy with some of the decisions you make, and I get it but I can honestly look at myself in the mirror and know that I gave my heart and soul to this franchise for 14 years. It was just time to move on and I'm really happy where I am right now."
On how the Lightning have moved on:
"I think the Lightning franchise is going really well. Mr. Vinik is a tremendous owner. I couldn't appreciate more the way he handled everything. I think they're in a good place and I'm in a good place and so we've moved forward."
On seeing this date on the schedule when it first came out:
"Yeah for sure, we definitely looked at it right away, circled it."
On what he expects from the game itself:
"It is gonna be special, I'm sure its going to be an emotional game. I'm just hoping a couple shifts in, you just play the game."
On the trade and the aftermath:
"For me, the hardest thing, i didn't really get a chance to say good bye to the trainers and people like that, it just happened really quick and I'd been here so long. That was the toughest part... I played in St. Louis the night before and at 4pm the next day, I was landing in New York City and getting ready to play a game. I didn't have much time to think things through, obviously. A deep playoff run, I lost my mom. There was a lot of things to reflect on this summer. I came to be three games from winning the Stanley Cup and for me, that really made everything right. I was so close to reaching my goal. Unfortunately it didn't happen but I was glad I had the opportunity."
On the so-called perceived Olympic "snub" and the weight it had on his decision to leave:
Things happen sometimes. Did it have an impact on my decision? I'm sure it had something to do with it but was it only that? No. And its really not worth going into it. The Lightning, i have nothing but good memories here, you know? It was just time."
On what kind of reception he expects from Lightning fans tomorrow night:
"People are entitled to their opinion and I respect it. I know a lot of them will heal with time. It is what it is. I'm expecting the worst, hoping for the best."
And if it's the worst?
"Yeah, I get it. but I'm happy with myself and that's the most important thing. Like I said, I can look at myself. I came here as an un-drafted guy, I came here as a free agent. okay? I know I've given my heart and soul and it was just time for something else... I'd like people to remember the great years. I think i was fortunate to be here that long. It doesn't happen a lot, when you spend that much time with one team."
On what he would say to the fans who still wear their #26 Lightning sweaters:
That's a tough question (long pause). I really appreciate their support. i know they... When I first got here, I was just trying to, you know, prove to myself that i could play in this league. And I gained a lot of fans along the way, there's no doubt. We had some high moments together, we had some low moments together but I think... we were together for 14 years and that's what i would tell them, remember the great 14 years. And i understand the disappointment maybe they feel. But for me it's more like, I get their pain but I just want them to respect my decision. I think I've earned that."