TAMPA – New York Rangers forward Martin St. Louis has a knack for big games on special nights.
On Nov. 25, 2013, the Tampa Bay Lightning honored their former captain upon his return home after playing in his 1000th game earlier in the week. He scored two goals and had an assist against the New York Rangers for the Lightning that night.
On Wednesday the team will honor St. Louis with a pre-game video ceremony in his first game at Amalie Arena since he was traded to the Rangers in March. St. Louis needs two points to reach 1,000 for his career. He scored 953 points (365 goals, 588 assists) with the Lightning over 13 seasons.
"I'd love to do it here," St. Louis said. "I'm hoping for it. With the game in Buffalo being canceled [last week] it seems to have worked out."
Martin St. Louis' return to Tampa Bay
The fact that the game falls on the 26th, his number, wasn't lost on St. Louis either.
"I thought that was great," St. Louis said. "Everything seems to be lining up."
St. Louis said he circled his return to Tampa as soon as he received a schedule. It's clear the 39-year-old wing has moved on but also understands the controversy that came with his departure.
However, emotions still run high about the deal that sent St. Louis and a conditional second-round pick to the Rangers for Ryan Callahan, a first-round pick and conditional first- and seventh-round picks. The trade sparked shock and anger from fans and members of the team, but it didn't erase 14 years of memories.
St. Louis took a long pause when he was asked for thoughts on the young fans that still wear his jersey to Lightning games.
"I really appreciate their support," St. Louis said. "I know when I first got here I was just trying to prove to myself I could play in this League. We had some high moments together and some low moments together, but I hope they remember the 14 years. I get their pain but I just want them to respect my decision. I think I've earned that."
How the fans react to St. Louis' first appearance in Amalie Arena as a member of the Rangers is a question that's been circulating since the Lightning's 2-1 victory Saturday against the Minnesota Wild.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said it will be important for both sides to have closure Wednesday.
"I don't know how he's going to be greeted," Cooper said. "He's had a positive effect on some of our players; he's had a positive effect on me. He has a much stronger relationship with the community of Tampa and the fans. I'm sure he's going to hear both ends of the spectrum."
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos expects the fans to give St. Louis a warm reception Wednesday.
"There's going to be mixed emotions for sure," Stamkos said. "There's going to be some cheers and some boos and I'm sure he expects that. It's tough from a fan's perspective, especially the way [the trade] went down but I think most will look at what he did here and show him the appreciation he deserves."
St. Louis hopes his time in Tampa will be remembered fondly but isn't sure what will happen when his name is announced.
"I'm expecting the worst and hoping for the best," St. Louis said. "I look at myself in the mirror and know I gave my heart and soul to this franchise for 14 years and it was time to move on. I'd like the people to remember the great years."
Right Wing - NYR
GOALS: 8 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 17
SOG: 40 | +/-: -2
Stamkos and St. Louis remain close friends. They had dinner together Monday night although neither would disclose who picked up the check. St. Louis said it's exciting to continue to watch Stamkos grow into a leader and a top star in the NHL.
"We talk a lot; he came to my mom's funeral," St. Louis said. "I watch some of his games when I can. I want him to do well, he wants me to do well and we had some great years together."
Despite the circumstances of the trade, it seems to have worked out for both teams. The Rangers reached the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Los Angeles Kings in five games. The Lightning signed Callahan to a new contract in the offseason and are tied for second in the Eastern Conference with 30 points (14-6-2).
St. Louis isn't surprised about the Lightning's success.
"It's a good young team and even last year when we lost Stamkos, we were still rolling," St. Louis said. "There is a deep roster of talent. Callahan is a respected player; I'm not surprised at all."
That the trade happened so fast may have been a blessing in disguise for St. Louis. He admits he didn't have time to digest things before he was playing with the Rangers.
"I played against the [St. Louis Blues] the night before and the next day I'm flying to New York," St. Louis said. "I didn't get a chance to say good bye to a lot of people."
St. Louis said many of those goodbyes on Tuesday. He has fond memories of Tampa but he won't look back.
"There were a lot of things to reflect on this summer," St. Louis said. "I lost my mom. We had a deep playoff run; we came three games from winning a Stanley Cup. "I'm really happy where I am right now with my family all settled in. I'm happy with myself and that's the most important thing."