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St. Louis finally adds Lady Byng to mantle

by Shawn P. Roarke
LAS VEGAS -- The fifth time that proved to be the charm for Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis.

St. Louis finally won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy -- given to the player who "exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability" -- Wednesday night during the 2010 NHL Awards Show at the Pearl Concert Theater at the Palms Casino.

It not only ended St. Louis' frustrating run as an also-ran for the award, but ended the four-year stranglehold on this hardware by Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk.

For St. Louis, who had finished second in each of the past three years, it was worth the wait to finally come out on top.

"You have to respect the honor -- whether you are winning or not," St. Louis said. "It's an honor to be nominated. You have to respect the NHL and what it stands for. This is the best League in the world, the best level you can play, and this is what every kid dreams of to do. I couldn't be happier to win this trophy.

"I think back on my career, and as a kid if you had told me I would have a Stanley Cup, an Art Ross, a Hart, a Lester B. Pearson and now a Lady Byng, I don't think I would have believed you. It's a special night."

St. Louis won those four other trophies back in June 2004, capping off a Stanley Cup run with the Lightning by dominating the NHL Awards Show later that month, copping a hat trick of individual trophies.

St. Louis admitted it was nice to recapture that feeling of individual excellence -- especially after some of the tough times he has endured as Tampa Bay has tried to find its way back to the top after the 2004 triumph.

"We all play for the Stanley Cup, but when you get recognized for other stuff besides a team trophy, it's neat," St. Louis said. "It's something they can't take away from you."

That mindset illustrates the growth of St. Louis -- both on and off the ice.

This season, he finished sixth in the League in scoring with 94 points -- the same total that won his the Art Ross in 2003-04 -- and took just six minor penalties. He was the only player in the top 13 in the scoring race over the age of 30.

"It's really about pushing it to the limit without getting caught," St. Louis said. "I don't see myself as someone who doesn't hustle, (doesn't) play tough or isn't hard to play against. I just try to push it as far as I can without getting caught."

That wasn't always the case for St. Louis. Early in his career, he was more concerned about proving he belonged in the NHL. Going undrafted and being traded from your original organization -- both of which St. Louis experienced early in his career -- tends to leave feelings of inadequacy.

So, St. Louis wasn't shy about overstepping his bounds -- be it a cross check, a slash or whatever else might be necessary -- to gain the real estate he needed to be successful and prove his critics wrong.

"When you are a small player, going back like 10 years, and you are trying to fight for inches in this League, trying to play bigger than your size, I don't think being a Lady Byng (player) is going make you make it to the NHL when you are an undrafted player," St. Louis said. "So, I had to play with a chip on my shoulder a little bit more when I was younger. I think with the rule change, I don't think I played differently, but I didn't have to prove to anybody that I had to play bigger than my size. I could just go play and not worry about 'is-he-too-small (questions).' I think I had to face that early in my career."

Now he doesn't feel the need to do those things.

Part of it is the more strict interpretation of obstruction, alluded to by St. Louis, which was ushered into the game a few years back. But it is just as much a product of St. Louis being comfortable in his skin -- even if it covers a body that is just 5-foot-9 and 177 pounds.

"It's about playing the game; whatever size you are," St. Louis said. "I don't think it is about small or big."

Wednesday night, he proved that yet again with a Lady Byng triumph that was six seasons -- and four bitter disappointments -- in the making.

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