Playing Through Adversity: A Unique Skill

In the world of the NHL, Martin St. Louis is a unique warrior.  He’s one of the best players in the game–but also one of the smaller players on the ice. The 5’8” right-winger weighs 180 lbs, but the average NHL player is 6’1” tall and weighs 205 lbs.  This makes St. Louis’ accomplishments all the more remarkable.  He’s a 6-time All-Star, a former MVP, and a former Stanley Cup champion, and took a gold medal at the Sochi Olympics earlier this year.

But a few days ago,  St. Louis had to face what is likely the toughest challenge of his career: the unexpected death of his mother, France, just three days before Mother’s Day.  But it’s not how St. Louis reacted to his mother’s death that has everyone talking about him.  It’s how he translated it into athletic success during the pinnacle of the hockey season—the NHL playoffs.

St. Louis plays for the New York Rangers, who are currently locked in a 3-3 tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins going into Game 7 tonight. And it is partially thanks to the efforts of St. Louis that the Rangers have been able to pull themselves back from the edge of defeat.  Before Mrs. St. Louis’ death, the Rangers were down 3-1 in the series.  Then, after St. Louis’s mother’s death, the Rangers played two pivotal elimination games, one in the “Igloo” in Pittsburgh and one yesterday in the Garden in New York.  The Rangers won both games, and St. Louis can be called the emotional spark that energized the team after losing three straight games following a Game 1 victory.

Game 5 in Pittsburgh, St. Louis’ first game after his mother’s death, was a 5-1 blowout in favor of the Rangers, but it is Sunday’s Game 6 victory that has everyone talking.  With just over three and a half minutes into the first period, the Rangers got the puck in front of the Penguins’ net and, after a furious scramble, the puck went in courtesy of a fortuitous deflection off of St. Louis’ thigh pad for the first goal of the game.

Only two and a half minutes later, Carl Hagelin scored the Rangers’ second goal of the game, sealing their 3-1 victory essentially before the game even started.

So why is St. Louis’ goal so special?  It’s certainly not because of any skill that was put into it (there really is no skill that goes into scoring a goal off of your thigh), and it’s not because it has propelled the Rangers to a sudden death Game 7.  In fact, it’s not even because he scored on Mother’s Day just a few days after his own mother passed away.  It’s because he bared his emotions to his team, they responded and have supported him, and now he’s returned the favor.  It highlights something very special and unique in sports: when a member of a team is going through an emotionally difficult time, time and time again, their teammates seem to rally around them and step up their game a few notches.  It’s not clear why this happens, nor is it easy, by any stretch of the imagination, to explain.  It just happens.

Nevertheless, this “team emotional rallying” is one of those few things that make sports truly special. Whether it’s the fans, the teammates, the opponents, or even the player themselves, having people encourage and cheer you on in emotionally tough times can make anyone feel like they can do anything.  So when Martin St. Louis was at his low point, his Rangers teammates rallied behind him when he needed it most, and St. Louis was in the right place at the right time when the Rangers needed it most.  So now both parties have done solids for one another, and now it’s time to go win Game 7.

Everyone has each other’s back in the Rangers locker room, and when a team is fully united, there are very few things that can stop them from achieving their goal of winning – especially during the playoffs.  Add France St. Louis’ presence to that mix, and it might just be the case that it will make the Rangers unstoppable tonight.

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