Friday, 4 a.m.
You can argue, if you wish, whether Marty St. Louis deserves this night. After all the hard feelings, perhaps he does not.
But you do.
You, Lightning fan, deserve to see a jersey raised to the rafters. You, Lightning fan, deserves a good memory or two. You, Lightning fan, deserve to be reminded of the great stories and golden moments that a player can provide.
You, the fan who has put up with owners like Takashi Okobu and Art Williams and Oren Koulis, deserve some good memories, too. You, the fan who rolled his eyes at the blurry fax and the lost years, deserve to be reminded there were good moments, too.
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If it helps, then, think of this not as something for St. Louis. But as something else that Marty is providing for the rest of us.
Oh, there were hard feelings back in early 2014, when St. Louis pouted his way out of Tampa Bay. He wanted to play in New York, and he used not being among the initial selections for the Canadian Olympic team as a lever. He was the captain of the Lightning, on his way to a 30-goal season, and he traded in the idolization of the fans.
So if you're still sore, well, I understand. There is no grudge quite like betrayal, and if you walk out on a team, you're doing the same thing to fan.
But let's face it: I don't know when the statute of a limitations ends on a player leaving, but it seems to me that it's about over.
On a nice January night, Marty came back to us Thursday night. For once, he wasn't wearing Rangers colors, and he wasn't trying to tap-dance around leaving. He was just Marty, the kid who scored all the big goals, back where he belonged.
This was good for the rest of us, too. Sure, it was Marty who was immortalized, but once again, the memories are fair game for the rest of us, too. You can talk about the Game Six in Calgary, when St. Louis scored the goal that sent the Lightning to the ultimate game, which they won. You can talk about the previous season in Washington, when he scored in double overtime.
He was always beloved around here. He was small, and he was smart. He was the mongoose, darting in and out of the cobras, scoring 953 of his points in the best-ever era of the team. How many kids wore St. Louis' No. 26 jerseys. How many teenagers reminded each other that they didn't have to be big, they had to be good.
Rick Dudley, the old Lightning general manager who brought St. Louis to town, was talking about it Thursday night. Calgary wanted to go big, so they bought out St. Louis. St. Louis was headed to Europe to play, but Dudley offered him a little extra money and a one-way contract. “I knew he could play,” said Dudley, now a vice-president with Montreal.
Phil Esposito remembers seeing St. Louis in college, and thinking he was just too small. But the game changed, and suddenly, there was room for St. Louis.
Ask Espo what he remembers, and he says “big-game performer.” Yes, there is such a thing, and Espo believes in it. Most pros do. There are times late in games when some athletes wilt from the moment. And there are players who warm themselves on the bright lights. Marty was a big-game performer.
None of that ever went away while Tampa Bay was mad at St. Louis. We just kind of put the memories on a back shelf. They didn't quite count while Marty was wearing Ranger colors. Especially since he never really explained his departure during this team's stretch run.
Really, it doesn't matter anymore, does it. Because the memories of St. Louis are Tampa Bay's memories, too. Those moments happened in defense of the jersey. We were lifted by his big goals. We were beaten down by the old ownership, too. We felt empty when there wasn't enough talent to win another cup. On all of those lonely nights, we felt Marty's pain. It was ours, too.
But there had to be a moment of reconciliation, or we were just grumpy old men.We ought to get over and enjoy the Marty days all over again.
Once again, he is one of us.
Welcome home, Marty.
This time, perhaps he will not leave.