The best thing about having a team-issued credential to cover the Lightning is that I'm a Lightning fan, and I like to believe that being a credentialed member of the media allows me to be an ambassador on behalf of fellow fans who will never get to experience the game of hockey that way. Through this weekly column, I'll be sharing peeks behind the magical media curtain with you. Today, we're going to talk about our interactions with Marty St. Louis.
Later tonight, the Tampa Bay Lightning will retire the number 26 worn by Martin St. Louis during his career with the Lightning, the first time such an honor has been bestowed upon a player in the history of the franchise.
Let’s address the “controversial” aspects of this move, at least as far as it concerns me, the writer of this particular op-ed, for the sake of getting them out of the way.
- Am I still angry with Marty? No. I was, and when I was, I was very angry. I felt hurt and betrayed. Mostly because I didn’t understand what happened, how everything that seemed fine just seemed to derail out of nowhere. I still don’t understand, but I’m over it. I understand why people might feel they’re still owed a detailed explanation of what exactly happened for the sake of “closure”, but by the same token, I feel that once somebody says it’s a family matter, it’s automatically out of bounds. It’s unfortunate that his tenure in Tampa came to such a weird and unhappy ending, but it’s in the past, along with all of the great things he did for the Lightning. It’s time to compartmentalize all of those things and look back at them with the perspective gained from the passage of time.
- Is it appropriate to honor Marty before Vinny Lecavalier? Or even Dave Andreychuk? Yes, I think it is. Andreychuk’s legacy with the Lightning is secure. The Lightning erected a statue in his honor. Plus, his number could still end up retired at some point. Vinny left under less-bitter circumstances, as a victim of salary cap shuffling, and his number will go up in the rafters too, probably as soon as next season. All three are destined, eventually (I believe) for the Hall of Fame, but Andreychuk’s time with the Lightning is a blip compared to how long Marty and Vinny were here. And between Marty and Vinny, Marty did retire first, so...
I wish I had some dramatic, heart-warming, inspirational or even funny stories about me and Marty hanging out back in the day. I don’t even have one of those. What I can tell you is that Marty was, without fail, completely gracious with me any time I ever asked him for anything. He’d give thoughtful answers to questions and never made me feel like his time was more valuable than mine. That may seem like nothing more than common courtesy and not a big deal but it doesn’t happen as often as you might think.
Everybody knows Marty’s story, how he went from the little guy who couldn’t crack a mediocre-at-best Calagry Flames line-up, to an all-star, an award winner, and a Stanley Cup champion with the Lightning. And how he did that almost entirely through hard work and determination, to which he was perpetually dedicated. He spent his entire career like he needed to prove himself every time he took the ice. He always practiced and played like he was on the verge of being cut by the 2000-01 Calgary Flames.
As a blogger, sometimes it feels like a few of those circumstances are similar. Raw Charge is not a mainstream media outlet with all the cache and credibility that comes with that. We don’t fly from city to city with the team. It takes a couple of extra hoops to jump through when we want exclusive access to someone.
We’re not mistreated by any means, but we lack the clout that automatically comes to those employed by certain outlets. The Lightning started granting us access years ago, but in front of other members of the media and the team itself, it still feels necessary to justify our presence sometimes. We feel like we always have to conduct ourselves and produce like our credentials could be yanked, which would be equivalent to being cut by the 2000-01 Calgary Flames.
I have no idea if Marty knew who I wrote for or that I was a mere blogger. I kind of doubt it. I highly doubt it, actually. But I think I may have given off a vibe that allowed him to recognize me as an individual who felt like they were kind of on the fringe, as somebody not quite completely comfortable in their element. I have no other way of explaining why he would approach me on various occasions and initiate a conversation. Usually about hockey but not always. I remember a couple of brief exchanges about our mutual appreciation of certain movies. These were never long, meaningful, heart-to-heart dialogues, just little bursts of small talk someone might offer a kindred spirit in an effort to ease discomfort.
It’s entirely possible I’m reading way too much into it. Maybe I just happened to be in proximity a couple of times when he felt chatty. Still, it was something he didn’t have to do and I really appreciated it as a welcoming gesture. It’s a factor that has helped me re-focus the perspective I mentioned above and why I look forward to Marty receiving this honor.