Stu Cowan: Martin St. Louis is loving his job as Canadiens’ head coach

The Hall of Famer still remembers his first training camp hosted by Ottawa Senators and still uses the lessons learned from it.

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Martin St. Louis had no idea what the future held for him when he showed up at his first NHL training camp as a player.

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“My first camp was in Ottawa in 1997,” the Canadian head coach recalled on Thursday. “I was just an invitation.”

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St. Louis was never selected in the NHL draft, although he was a star at the University of Vermont for four seasons and was a two-time finalist for the Hobey Baker Award for the best player in US collegiate hockey.

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In his final 1996-97 season at Vermont, St. Louis had 24-36-60 aggregates in 36 games — but he was only 5-foot-8 tall.

“I remember being nervous, excited, and worried,” St. Louis recalled of his first training camp with the Senators. “I mean, there are so many feelings going through your mind when you show up at this stage. It’s about really controlling what you can do. The two things I feel you have the most control over are your work ethic and your attitude. If you’re having a bad day and you’re discouraged and you bring that negative energy with you the next day, you don’t stand a chance. So for me it’s easy to control what you can do.”

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St. Louis was able to do so even after being fired from the Senators and then playing for the AHL’s Saint John Flames and the IHL’s Cleveland Lumberjacks before making his NHL debut with the Calgary in the 1998-99 season Flames gave. Calgary let St. Louis go after playing 69 NHL games in two seasons and going 4-16-20.

The Tampa Bay Lightning then signed St. Louis and he made a career in the Hall of Fame, winning the 2004 Stanley Cup, along with the Hart Trophy as league MVP and the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer with 38-56 – 94 totals in 82 games.

Now St. Louis is leading his first NHL training camp as a head coach, and he can understand how the young players are feeling. He said work ethic and enthusiasm are two of the most important things to start training camp with. St. Louis added that Canadians at this camp are not looking to the past, only to the future.

St. Louis focuses on physical conditioning and getting players into a competitive mode early in camp and will slowly introduce the concepts the team is expected to use. He doesn’t like systems.

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systems box players,St. Louis said after the Canadians hired him to replace Dominique Ducharme last February. “That’s one of the things I hated the most as a player.

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Another thing St. Louis will work on at this camp is developing a team culture in a family atmosphere.

“We’re definitely taking a modern approach to how we want to develop our boys on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “It’s not a new culture, so to speak. One thing we are, we are very clear on everything. We define what our culture is. I think players understand that because I think the culture is thrown around and it’s very broad, it’s very general. So we want a family atmosphere and that starts with our culture.”

St. Louis’ experience at its first NHL training camp is a big reason the Canadians invited 74 players to camp this year.

“I think this year it was important to bring as many people as possible, especially our own people,” St. Louis said Friday. “I wanted to have small groups in terms of teams, to get more reps in those (scrimmage) games, more touches to help fitness. But also show everyone what we do here and how we do it. I remember being invited to camp as a young man and being alongside NHL boys was incredible. And sometimes you just never know what that can mean for a player. By that I mean — I know I’ve done it — I’ve taken the NHL so far that you almost sell yourself short before you even get to it. To have this experience, to be next to these guys, you realize now: I’m not that far yet. And you’d be amazed what that can do for a player when they realize they’re not there yet.”

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St. Louis also wants the youth at camp to play to their strengths.

“I really believe — especially with young people — I look at their ceiling,” he said. “I don’t care about the floor. I really don’t when they’re young. Show me your ceiling – we’ll fix the floor.”

While CBA rules only allow players to spend a maximum of three hours a day at a practice or training facility, days are much longer for coaches during training camp. St. Louis arrived at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard at 8:00 a.m. Friday and met with the media just before 4:30 p.m. after the players had two separate scrimmages followed by practice sessions.

St. Louis seems to be enjoying every minute of his coaching job.

“Listen, I love hockey,” he said. “Being part of a team is my favorite thing in life. There’s nothing better – whatever that is. When I retired I started coaching my kids and I was part of a team. So I’ve been on a team my whole life and this is my favorite thing in life, working with people and common goals and working through the struggles, the good and the bad.

“There is nothing better.”

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