Canadiens head coach St. Louis takes indefinite leave for family reasons

CALGARY — A challenging season for the Montreal Canadiens became even harder Saturday when the team announced head coach Martin St. Louis was on leave.

The NHL club announced just over an hour before a road game against the Flames in Calgary that St. Louis will be absent from the team indefinitely for family reasons, and that assistant Trevor Letowski will serve as head coach in his absence.

"It was different with Marty not being here," Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki said following a 5-2 loss to the Flames. "We have a really good group in here, a lot of good coaches and business as usual. Missing him and hoping and wishing for the best for him."

The Canadiens (25-31-11) ranked seventh in the Atlantic Division after starting their five-game road trip in Calgary. Montreal heads to Edmonton to face the Oilers on Tuesday.

"Leaders need to step up. Coaches are put in a different position," Suzuki said. "We're helping them. They're helping us. When you lose your big leader like that, everyone's got to pull on the same rope."

St. Louis has coached the Canadiens to a 25-30-0-11 record in his third season at the helm. He replaced Dominique Ducharme as interim head coach Feb. 9, 2022 and signed a three-year contract extension that June.

St. Louis played more than 1,300 NHL games for the Calgary Flames, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers. The 48-year-old from Laval, Que., won a Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004 and helped Canada win an Olympic gold medal in men's hockey in 2014.

St. Louis was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.

Letowski, who made his head-coaching debut in Calgary, is in his third season on Montreal's coaching staff. The 46-year-old from Thunder Bay, Ont., was previously head coach of the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires.

Letowski played 616 NHL games for the Phoenix Coyotes, Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes. Letowski said he was informed Friday that St. Louis would be absent from the club.

"It's an emotional time, there's no question, but you just have to dig in and just grind it out," Letowski said Saturday. "We have a job to do to fill some big shoes with Marty's absence and tried everything we could to do that I think.

"Being a former player in the league, I would say, you lean on that a bit because you can't be around this league, whether you're in coaching or if you're a player, without, usually, constant adversity and ups and downs. I thought we had handled it as well as we could."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2024.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press