By: Justin Dickie
08/16/2013 9:03 AM -
Martin St. Pierre has a way of turning negatives into positives.
He’s heard the same thing from critics over and over through his junior hockey days and early years as a professional: he’s too small. He’ll never make it as a pro.
“I’m not a big guy and there’s a lot of people that said I could never play games in the (National Hockey League), have success in junior or still play to this day,” St. Pierre says. “I love when people try to bring you down. I use that as a motivation and keep going.”
On July 6th, 2013, the 30-year-old signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Montreal Canadiens. The 2013-2014 season marks a decade as a professional.
The 5’9”, 187-pound forward seems to be doing just fine, despite what doubters have to say.
In nine seasons of professional hockey, he’s recorded more than a point per game in 516 regular season American Hockey League games with the Edmonton Road Runners, Norfolk Admirals, Rockford IceHogs, Providence Bruins, Binghamton Senators and Springfield Falcons, skated in 38 NHL games with the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators and spent a whirlwind season in Europe playing in three different countries with three different teams before winning a league championship in Austria.
Not bad for a guy who many people thought couldn’t hack it. But he’s certainly had to go the extra mile for everything he’s earned.
St. Pierre was a junior star. In four seasons with the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm, the natural-born playmaker finished top-three in team scoring each year. In his first season (2000-2001), he led the OHL in rookie assists and points. In his overage season (2003-2004), as captain of the Storm, he finished third in the regular season scoring race, led the league in playoff scoring, was named OHL Overage Player of the Year and Playoff MVP and won an OHL championship.
Despite an impressive junior résumé, he wasn’t getting calls from pro teams. The NHL was headed for a lockout in the summer of 2004 and it was proving tough for the undrafted overager to find a spot. St. Pierre weighed his options with his agent and decided to take advantage of his Canadian Hockey League education package. He committed to the Dalhousie University Tigers and moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“Five weeks in, school started, and it was kind of a reality check,” St. Pierre says. “You play hockey every day and now you’re in school sitting in class. It just wasn’t the right timing for me. My head wasn’t there.”
Before St. Pierre had a chance to suit up for the Tigers, he got a call from Road Runners head coach Geoff Ward.
“They needed one centre to fill training camp. Not even for the team, just to fill in for training camp,” St. Pierre says. “So he gave me a call and I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely, if I can have a chance to provide myself.’”
The Ottawa, Ontario native must’ve filled in admirably. At the end of camp, he signed his first pro contract with the Road Runners.
“I still felt I could play pro hockey, so it was an easy decision for me because I still wanted to play hockey and chase my dream,” St. Pierre says. “I had to leave Dalhousie and I lost my school package.”
And he’s never looked back.
After a first pro season split between the Road Runners and the ECHL’s Greenville Grrrowl, in the fall of 2005 he signed his first NHL contract with the Blackhawks. He was assigned to their AHL affiliate in Norfolk, where he led the team in scoring with 73 points in 77 games and earned his first NHL call up, playing in two games with Chicago.
The 2006-2007 season was St. Pierre’s best to date. In the AHL, he recorded 99 points in 65 games, played in his first All-Star Game and was named a First-Team All-Star. He also played in 14 games for the Blackhawks, recording four points, including his first NHL goal. He counts that goal as his fondest hockey memory, scoring on Marc-Andre Fleury against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
St. Pierre has continued to dominate the AHL to this day, finishing either first or second on his team in scoring in every season since 2005-2006. His strong performance has earned him several call ups to the NHL over the years, but never a permanent one. He’s still wants to prove he can play at the next level.
But the AHL star also embraces the role of leader. He served as team captain with Rockford last season and wants to take on a similar leadership role with the young Hamilton Bulldogs if things don’t go his way in Montreal.
He says a familiarity with Canadiens and Bulldogs General Manager Marc Bergevin and Assistant General Manager Rick Dudley – both worked with the Blackhawks while St. Pierre was in the organization – was key in signing with Montreal. He also considers signing with the team to be a bit of a dream come true. He grew up as a Habs fan and held season tickets with his father, who is still a die-hard fan.
“When both sides showed interest in trying to get a deal done, we didn’t waste any time,” says St. Pierre about finalizing his contract on the second day of free agency. “It’s not like I’m going in blind. I know what I need to do, but they also know what I can do.”
Heading into his 10th season of pro hockey, St. Pierre could be sour about not finding a permanent home in the NHL, but he doesn’t dwell on the negative. He works every day for the chance to move up and if he ends up in Hamilton, he wants to impart that mentality on the younger guys around him.
“Everybody wants to play in the NHL,” St. Pierre says. “Guys get sent down, guys get hurt, so other guys get called up and you just have to do your own thing, keep focused on yourself and everyday getting better.
“Anything can happen to anybody if they work hard.”
So far, St. Pierre has certainly proven that theory, making the most of every situation he faces.