Martin St. Louis pushes forward with rebuilding Canadiens: 'Elite hockey mind'

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Martin St. Louis had a pretty good sense of what he was getting into.

The Hall of Fame forward played 16 NHL seasons, won a Stanley Cup, captured major awards, experienced international success, and fought for everything he got on the ice — especially early in his career — during an era where his five-foot-eight frame was viewed as a distinct disadvantage.

The fire and self-belief that pushed St. Louis among hockey's greats is something he's now brought to the next chapter of his career as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens.

He also continues to learn.

"The most important day in this league is the next day," St. Louis said recently. "Whether you win or lose, how do you attack the next day?

"I understood that, but I think I realize even more now how important that next day is."

The Canadiens have been looking to the next day — and far beyond — for quite some time.

St. Louis was hired in February on an interim basis with the team sporting a historically bad 8-30-7 record following an improbable run to the 2021 Cup final.

There are plenty of reasons Dominique Ducharme's second season in charge went so poorly — injuries, sub-par performances, an inability or unwillingness to adapt — but one thing that's evident is St. Louis has brought new energy since taking the job.

"Just building something together," Montreal winger Cole Caufield said. "That's the way we're all looking at it."

The 46-year-old St. Louis, who indicated last week he'd like to continue the job full-time, owns a 12-16-4 record as he looks to mould an organization that's pivoted to a rebuild.

"It's not one specific thing," the two-time Art Ross Trophy winner as the NHL's top scorer said of his areas of focus to close out the season. "It's the habits — I call them winning habits — that you can't just wait until the next year to develop. Habits, it's an everyday thing. We've got be hard on those.

"If we do that, we put ourselves in good situations."

St. Louis had well-documented ties Canadiens GM Kent Hughes and executive vice-president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton before taking on the role, but also possessed a paper-thin coaching resume with zero professional experience.

The move turned heads, but it also wasn't a massive shock to some in the game.

"My reaction was that it's not just 'someone,'" Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. "He's a Hall of Fame player with a passion (and) intelligence for the game that's right at the top of the list."

Toronto's bench boss was playing for Tampa Bay when St. Louis finally stuck in the NHL with the Lightning for good in 2000-01.

"The biggest thing that's stood out to me was his belief in himself and his ability," Keefe said. "For whatever reason, and I'm sure size was at the top of the list, he wasn't getting great opportunity.

"When opportunity came he took advantage of it and never looked back."

Opportunity is something St. Louis has provided the diminutive Caufield, who stands an inch taller than his coach at five foot nine, in their 10 weeks together.

Last season's Hobey Baker Award winner as the top player in U.S. college hockey, the 21-year-old had just one goal in 30 games and also spent time in the minors before the coaching change.

And despite not finding the back of the net in five straight outings, Caufield still has 17 goals and 30 points in 32 contests under St. Louis.

"Just trying to be myself," Caufield said of the message he received from the 2004 Cup winner. "Everybody feeds off his energy."

St. Louis said he's witnessed a player back enjoying his craft.

"A great shooter and great offensive player," said the coach. "But I've also seen some growth in the rest of the game."

Leafs forward Jason Spezza isn't surprised St. Louis has been a success in his brief time behind an NHL bench despite having only coached minor hockey until a couple of months ago.

The pair once roomed together at the world championships playing for Canada — and talked plenty of shop.

"Elite hockey mind," said the 38-year-old Spezza. "He thinks the game differently than most.

"You knew he was going to do a good job (with the Canadiens) just because of the passion he has."

SENS HIT 1,000

Ottawa's 4-3 shootout win over Vancouver on Tuesday didn't just deliver a crippling blow to the Canucks' playoff hopes.

It also got the Senators to a big milestone — their 1,000th regular-season victory in franchise history.

The 25th NHL team to reach the mark, Ottawa's record since entering the league in 1992 stands at 1000-981-115-176.

GETZLAF'S FAREWELL TOUR

Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf has just four games left in his career after recently announcing this season will be his last.

The 36-year-old has three goals and 35 points in 54 contests in 2021-22 on a team loaded with young talent that looks primed to make waves for years to come.

A Cup winner in 2007, Getzlaf's last game at the Honda Center will be Sunday night against the St. Louis Blues.

ST. LOUIS SERVING NOTICE

Those Blues have been on quite the tear in recent weeks.

Despite losing 3-2 in overtime to the Boston Bruins at home Tuesday to snap a nine-game winning streak, St. Louis still hasn't lost in regulation since March 26 — a stretch of 11-0-2.

The Blues and Minnesota Wild are a likely first-round playoff matchup, and that's good news for St. Louis, which is 12-1-1 in the teams' last 14 meetings.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2022.

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Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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