Stu Cowan: Martin St. Louis loves his job as Canadiens head coach

The Hall of Fame player still remembers his first training camp as an Ottawa Senators invitation and still uses the lessons learned from that.


Martin St. Louis had no idea what the future held when he showed up to his first NHL training camp as a player.

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“My first camp was in Ottawa in 1997,” the Canadiens head coach recalled Thursday. “It was just an invitation.”


St. Louis was never selected in the NHL draft despite being a star at the University of Vermont for four seasons and a two-time Hobey Baker Award finalist as the best US college hockey player.

In his final season in Vermont in 1996-97, St. Louis went 24-36-60 overall in 36 games, but was only 5-foot-8.

“I remember being nervous, excited, worried,” St. Louis recalled of his first training camp with the Senators. “I want to say that there are so many feelings that go through your head when you appear on this stage. It’s really controlling what you can. For me, the two things you can control the most are your work ethic and your attitude. If you have a bad day and you’re down and it brings you that negative energy the next day you don’t stand a chance. So for me it’s just control what you can.”

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St. Louis was able to do that even after being released by the Senators and then playing for the AHL’s Saint John Flames and IHL’s Cleveland Lumberjacks before making his NHL debut with the Calgary Flames during the 1998-99 season. Calgary let St. Louis go after he played 69 NHL games in two seasons and posted a total of 4-16-20.

The Tampa Bay Lightning then signed St. Louis and went on to have a Hall of Fame career, winning the Stanley Cup in 2004, along with the Hart Trophy as league MVP and the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer. the league with 38-56 -94 totals in 82 games.

Now St. Louis is hosting his first NHL training camp as a head coach and he can understand how young players feel. He said that work ethic and enthusiasm are two of the most important things to start training camp. St. Louis added that Canadians don’t look to the past and only look to the future at this camp.

St. Louis is focusing on physical conditioning and getting players into competition mode early in camp and will slowly introduce concepts it wants the team to use. He doesn’t like systems.

The systems box the players,,” St. Louis said after the Canadiens hired him last February to replace Dominique Ducharme. “That’s one of the things I hated the most as a player.

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Another thing St. Louis will be working on at this camp is developing a team culture within a family environment.

“We’re definitely taking a modern approach to how we want to develop our guys in our day-to-day stuff,” he said. “This is not a new culture, so to speak. We are one thing, we are very clear in anything. We define what our culture is. I think the players understand that because I think the culture mixes and it’s very broad, it’s very general. So for us, we want a family environment and it starts with our culture.”

St. Louis’ experience in its first NHL training camp is one of the main reasons the Canadiens invited 74 players to the field this year.

“I think this year it was important to bring as many guys as we could, especially our own people,” St. Louis said Friday. “I wanted to have small groups in terms of teams to get more reps in those (scrimmage) games, more touches, help fitness. But also to show everyone what we’re doing here and how we do it. When I was young, I remember being invited to camp and being around the NHL guys was amazing. And sometimes you never know what that can do for a player. What I mean by that is, I know I did it, I put the NHL so high that you almost sold yourself short before you got into it. So to get that experience of being next to those guys, now you realize: I’m not that far off. And you’d be surprised what that can do for a player if he realizes he’s not that far away.”

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St. Louis also wants the youth at the camp to play to their strengths.

“I am a great believer, especially with young people, I look at their ceiling,” he said. “I don’t care about the floor. Not really when they’re young. Show me your roof, we’ll fix the floor.”

While CBA rules only allow players to spend a maximum of three hours a day at a practice or training facility, days are much longer for coaches during training camp. St. Louis arrived at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard at 8 a.m. Friday and met with the media just before 4:30 p.m. after the players had two separate games followed by practice sessions.

St. Louis seems to be enjoying every minute of his coaching job.

“Listen, I love hockey,” he said. “Being part of a team is what I like most in life. There is nothing better, whatever it is. For me, when I retired I started to train my children and I was part of a team. So I’ve been in a team all my life and that’s what I love most in life: working with people and common goals and overcoming struggles, the good ones and the bad ones.

“There is nothing better”.

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