‘It’s such a great story’ — Lightning retire Martin St. Louis’ jersey to the rafters

Martin St. Louis was never the biggest player on the ice. Far from it.

But he had a tremendous impact on the Tampa Bay Lightning, and on Friday the Bolts retired his No. 26 jersey to the rafters at Amalie Arena.

The most decorated player in that franchise’s history — the Lightning record holder in assists with 588 and in points with 953 — St. Louis was an integral member of the 2004 team that captured the Stanley Cup. He scored the overtime winner in Game 6 versus Calgary, sending the championship series to a decisive seventh game, which Tampa Bay won on home ice.

“He was, he still is, and he forever will be the heart and soul of this organization,” said Steven Stamkos during the retirement ceremony, per the Lightning.

Listed at five-foot-eight-inches tall, St. Louis defied the odds and proved all his doubters wrong, not only by the longevity of his career but the brilliance and talent he brought to the game.

Not only did he win a championship with the Lightning, but he posted 1,033 points in 1,134 regular season games throughout his career. As former Bolts head coach John Tortorella said Friday, St. Louis had a “chip on his shoulder down to his ankle.”

“I need to make something perfectly clear — and I want his kids to know this, too: Marty was a pain in the ass to coach,” said Tortorella, now with the Blue Jackets, the opposition for Tampa Bay on Friday.

“He was stubborn. He was convicted. He had questions upon questions … about trying to find a better way to do it, find a better way to beat that team, to beat that opponent, that player. He’s a man that has been told ‘No’ so many times early in his career. ‘No, you’re not good enough.’ ‘No, you’re too small.’

“It’s such a great story. Such a great story for all walks of life to delve into when you have a dream. Not just in hockey … but in all walks of life, read what happened with him, how he went about his business, and it is just unbelievable.”

In his speech, St. Louis called his time in Tampa Bay “some of the best years of my life.” He addressed his teammates, both from the 2004 team and those still playing for the Lightning like Stamkos and Victor Hedman.

He got emotional speaking about his late mother, before the crowd gave him a rousing cheer.

The ceremony concluded with St. Louis and his family watching as his jersey went into the rafters — the first Lightning player to have his jersey retired.

“I will always be a Bolt,” he said.

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