One almost certainty of growing up in Canada, is you’re bound to love hockey at some point in your life. For most, the game is found at a young age and for Hamilton Bulldogs centre Martin St. Pierre the game called him in early and never let go.
“I grew up outside Ottawa, with 8-10,000 people and it’s a hockey town, I grew up right near the rink. It’s obviously a Canadian sport and back when I was growing up the winters were very cold and long and it was what we did. My dad played hockey as well, and he got me into skating at the age of three. My brother and I would spend countless hours skating at the outdoor rink. I was one of those kids, when my mom would be yelling for dinner and I’d still be playing although it was almost dark.”
It wasn’t simply the countless hours spent skating until the stars shone brightly overhead, it was hours spent watching his childhood idol that lent a glove in strengthening St. Pierres’ bond with the sport.
“I was a big Montreal Canadiens fan growing up, I loved the old Montreal Forum, so growing up I was a big Mats Naslund – wore number 26 for Montreal. I think as a kid you often get attached to one player and for me he was it. I had his jersey. I remember I actually met him as a kid at an autograph signing and I was starstruck. He’s a small player, obviously he was an elite player in the NHL back in the day and I grew up wanting to be him. It was always having my mini stick and puck and watching the Canadiens with my Dad.”
A sport based on family values, it’s no surprise that St. Pierre gives gratitude where it’s due.
“My parents were great, mom and dad both worked shifts and they would have to compensate a lot so my brother and I could play, hockey is very expensive. What they did when I was younger is a big part of where I am now.”
For many players, the support system given off the ice usually holds the hockey mentality. Stemming from a family immersed in the game is often a factor in the longevity of a players career.
“Hockey is a big part of my family, my brother plays professionally in the minor leagues, he had knee surgery this past summer so he’s rehabbing with that. My dad still plays old timer hockey and it active a lot, then you have my mom who works a ton but she likes the game too. So it’s me who plays hockey professionally, but my hockey support system lies with my parents and my brother – they’re tremendous. I couldn’t have done anything without them.”
With an abundance of on ice heroes for young players to look towards, it’s the people you encounter off the ice that are often the most influential and inspiring. For St. Pierre, without a doubt the presence of his parents to this day has been the most beneficial.
“It’s my parents, it’s one thing having talent and working hard on the ice. But it’s the people off the ice that help you in your role as a professional athlete. There’s a lot to learn and you go through a lot of things very quickly, my parents were always good about keeping me down to earth and grounded. The biggest thing for them is to ‘remember where you come from, always give back when you get a chance, because hockey careers don’t last forever and you need to make the best of it while you can.’ That was probably one of the best pieces of advice I was ever given. They always wanted me to chase my dreams, but they made it clear to stay on an even keel.”
The importance of family and the support they lend is a key component of the lifestyle. But it isn’t solely the familial relationships that St. Pierre cherishes, it’s the bonds that he’s made over countless years playing the game that are also special.
“In hockey there’s a lot of ups and downs, whether it be in the NHL, the minors or the OHL. You’re moving away from home, so, surrounding yourself with great friends who stay by your side and family is very important.”
Take nothing for granted is a thought that many should possess. It’s one that St. Pierre has lived by throughout his career, and giving back to those in need has become a significant part of his life.
“I try to get involved as much as I can during the season, hospital visits, reading at elementary schools and whatnot. It’s important to help kids realize that anyone can achieve their dreams, whether its hockey, sports or anything else.”
It isn’t only team sanctioned events that drive community involvement, St. Pierre also hosts a charity golf tournament each summer with other players and big names participating, the event benefits CHEO (Childrens Hospital of Eastern Ontario) and will be heading into its 8th year this coming summer.
“We missed my golf tournament this summer, but it will be back next summer, it’ll be the 8th annual and it goes to a big childrens hospital in Ottawa, CHEO. There are some people in my hometown with their kids that have needed assistance, childcare is very expensive these days, even with the healthcare in Ontario helping with many of the expenses. It’s all about helping those in need, giving back and making a fun event out of it. At the end of the day I just love that I can help give back.”
Spending time off the ice giving back is a notion that many players look forward to and many start during their early years of playing the game. Similar to many of his peers, the Ontario Hockey League was a starting point for success. Four seasons with the Guelph Storm proved beneficial, where the team netted the coveted Wayne Gretzky Trophy during St. Pierre’s final OHL season in 03′-04′. The achievements conquered in the OHL were a necessary start towards furthered professional success.
“It was instrumental, I was going to go to the NCAA on a scholarship after my 99-00 year and then my gut feeling for some reason was that I wanted to play in the OHL and my Dad made sure that happened and got the package going into that. It’s a great city and a great hockey town, I found a lot of success there winning some championships and hosting the Memorial Cup. The organization took care of us with school and helped us out a lot with graduating. You mature a lot, especially with the help of your billets, I had two over the course of my four years there and they become your second family. It carved my path to help me play pro and I’m glad that I chose that route.”
A brief stint in the ECHL iced the way for a contract with the Blackhawks in 2005. Time spent between the NHL and AHL with a few teams led to a cherished opportunity with the Rockford IceHogs last season. A seasoned player with the chance to lend advice and guidance to younger members of the team, St. Pierre found himself donning the “C”.
“Now that I’m getting older, having a good relationship with the Blackhawks, they had a young team, and Ive been through a lot as a player, so I could lend advice and help out the younger guys. They were very open-minded and receptive all season. We had a successful year, although we just missed the playoffs but we made a great run for it and helped develop a lot of young guys who will play for years through. It feels good to help others around you, especially being Captain, wearing the “C” is an honor and especially this year in Hamilton, it’s a young skillful group of core guys that I’ll get to work with, similar to last year.”
Despite a good run with the Blackhawks organization and a humbling experience with Rockford, free agency found St. Pierre a new home. Seizing the opportunity at a lifelong dream, St. Pierre signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Montreal Canadiens on July 6, 2013.
“Being a part of the Canadiens organization and getting to play for three exhibition games for them was amazing. My parents were very touched by that, they came and saw me play the game in Ottawa which was amazing. It’s a childhood dream, I get to live it as part of the organization, I am going to Hamilton, but I’m looking to be consistent and hopefully if I get that call, I’ll be able to wear that Montreal C and live out my dream.”
Hopeful at a chance with the big club, it doesn’t mean St. Pierre is discourage at the opportunity laid before him with Montreal’s AHL affiliate Hamilton Bulldogs.
“Its closer to home, as far as my role, I hope they see me as a leader. I want to help the young guys, when I needed help when I was younger I always had positive role models to look up to. We want a successful season as a team, and personally but the team comes first.”
Perhaps one of the perks of living the hockey life, is the travel. Players often leave parts of their hearts throughout North America, falling in love with different cities at different points in their career.
“I played in Ottawa which is my hometown so that’s awesome, Chicago is Chicago they’ve won cups and they sell out the building every game now. Boston was amazing. Montreal is just another notch, you talk to any of the guys playing for the Canadiens, you cant take it for granted. They’ve won 24 Stanley Cups and there is a lot of history there. The atmosphere is very European like, the crowd is always engaged, it’s crazy there. You get goosebumps every start of the game to play there and it’s just fun to be part of that.”
At 30-years-old, St. Pierre has an abundance of experience and an arena filled with memories, but there will always be a select few that hold a prominent slot on the list.
“Scoring my first goal was amazing, but playing my first game in Dallas and having my family there was the most memorable moment. Getting drafted, throwing that Blackhawks jersey on and walking down that tunnel to get down the ice, I couldn’t even feel my legs. It’s all things you remember. My first face off. The game goes by so quick, but as the years go by you look back and you cant pinpoint every moment of the experience but those would top my list.”
It’s easy to see what type of personality a player brings to the ice, but it’s off the ice that garners less attention.
“I’m a very approachable, down to earth guy. Very sociable, I love meeting new people, talking to them, interacting. I love trying new things. The biggest thing is socializing, respect goes a long way and I like to give that and receive it from people. It goes for off the ice, but on the ice and in the dressing room as well.”
With a season chock full of travel, when downtime presents itself, St. Pierre has a few go to ways to spend his time.
“I like going to dinners, hanging out with friends, movies etc. I also like to take naps and help my body recover quickly. I love to cook at home and spend low key time.”
Unlike the vast majority of his teammates, finding success in the virtual video game world proves quite the challenge.
“I’m the worst player at Call of Duty, the absolute worst. I’m very athletic, I’m very good at water-skiing. But Call of Duty, I’m terrible.”
A fan of country music, the sounds of Luke Bryan take precedence over many playlists. Put on the spot to pick a favorite, the choice was an easy one.
“Luke Bryan, I’m drunk on you. I’ve seen him live a few times, I have so much respect for the guy, one of the classiest I’ve ever met. I love all of his songs, but that’s catchy.”
Perhaps Bryan is one of the classiest country musicians, but many would agree that Martin St. Pierre falls into the same category when it comes to hockey players. A genuine talent with a big heart, both Bulldogs and Canadiens fans should find solace in seeing the Ottawa native on the roster this season.
Follow Martin: @MStPierre39