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St. Louis gets support from Lightning at Hockey Hall of Fame induction

Schedule allows former teammates, coach to be in Toronto for forward's big night

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

TORONTO -- Martin St. Louis looked like he was holding back his tears, and this was before he stepped on stage to deliver his Hockey Hall of Fame induction speech.

Sitting in the front row Monday, St. Louis watched current Tampa Bay Lightning players and his former teammates Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and J.T. Miller, and coach Jon Cooper walk into the ceremony from backstage. 

They stood to the right of the stage, to St. Louis' left, as he delivered his speech.

"My first word on this page is wow," St. Louis said in his opening his remarks. "I just need to say wow."

That was the exact reaction the Lightning players were hoping to get from St. Louis when they arrived at the induction ceremony shortly before it began.

Stamkos, Hedman, Kucherov and Killorn played with him in Tampa Bay. McDonagh, Girardi and Miller played alongside St. Louis with the New York Rangers, going on the ride with him in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, watching him thrive and score big goals even after his mom, France, died suddenly of a heart attack during the Eastern Conference Second Round.

"It'll mean the world to him," Stamkos said backstage, before they surprised St. Louis. "He was a guy that just loved to be around his teammates and the staff that he was with here for so long. He was the ultimate team guy.

"The ultimate respect is with your teammates, your opponents, so I think he'll be really excited."

It was scheduling fate that allowed the Lightning group to be here Monday; they play at the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV). Once they realized it was possible to make the quick jaunt to Toronto, the planning began.

"When this first started to come about there was going to be about three of us, and now there is almost 20," Cooper said. "That's how much Marty meant to everybody in our organization."

The Lightning's charter flight from Tampa Bay landed in Buffalo at 3:30 p.m. Monday. The group that wasn't attending the ceremony deplaned and went to the hotel; the group that was stayed on and the charter took them to Toronto, landing at 4:55. 

They had dinner together at a restaurant near the Hall of Fame and arrived at the induction ceremony by bus at 7 o'clock, pulling up in front of the Bay Street entrance of Brookfield Place, the home building of the Hockey Hall of Fame and the induction ceremony.

The group also included video coach Nigel Kirwan, equipment manager Ray Thill, head athletic trainer Tom Mulligan and executive vice president of communications Bill Wickett. They were all in Tampa Bay for St. Louis' entire run there from 2000-2014, a run that featured 972 regular season games played, 365 goals, 953 points, the 2004 Stanley Cup championship, a Hart Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy three times. 

"They respect Marty and they learned from Marty, what a leader he was and what a role model he was for them," Lightning owner Jeff Vinik said. "It's great to see them come across and spend time to honor him. It makes me feel good about our Lightning franchise."

Stamkos, who grew close with St. Louis during their time together in Tampa Bay and took over the Lightning captaincy after he was traded to the Rangers on March 6, 2014, was particularly thrilled the schedule worked out that he could get up to Toronto to see his friend get inducted.

Video: St. Louis enshrined into Hockey Hall of Fame

"Huge," said Stamkos, who added it was his first time attending the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony. "Everyone knows the impact Marty had on me as a player and more importantly as a person. The friendship that we have, it's amazing. It's an exciting moment for me as well."

Hedman called it a "phenomenal experience" to be here for St. Louis.

"He's the best player I've played with," Hedman said. "Sorry [Stamkos], but he is. Just his dedication, his work ethic -- he's won it all."

McDonagh, Girardi and Miller were honored to represent St. Louis' short tenure with the Rangers, which featured 93 regular-season games and 44 Stanley Cup Playoff games, including five in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.

St. Louis announced his retirement from the NHL on July 2, 2015.

"Obviously not being the biggest guy, that's been talked about for a while now, but his work ethic, his heart, he never gave up on anything and he just kept working," Girardi said. "A guy gets to 1,000 points, Stanley Cup champion, Hart Trophy winner, you've got a feeling [the Hockey Hall of Fame honor] is coming, so to be here for him, to be supportive, you can't ask for much more."

St. Louis hugged the members of the Lightning group watching from the side of the stage after he was done speaking. He went back to his seat in the front row and they went back to the bus for the 90-minute ride back to Buffalo.

"It's kind of lost that we do have to play a game tomorrow," Stamkos said. "We're trying to keep somewhat of a routine, but we're so excited to be here. We wouldn't miss this for the world."

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