Road Runners Reach Saint-hood
In every NHL camp each fall there are a handful of free
agents desperately trying to earn themselves a pro contract or at least a
longer look with that as their end goal.
Edmonton is no exception in this case as they brought in a pair of
players to their mid September rookie camp and will play host to even more for
the next two weeks as the AHL Edmonton Road Runners open their inaugural
training camp in the Alberta capital.
Memorial Cup winner Simon Ferguson was one of the two
free agents who skated with the Oiler prospects a couple weeks ago and he is
back in town looking to receive an offer.
The other skater Edmonton invited to town has already achieved his major
goal. According to reports out of
Dalhousie University, Martin St. Pierre reached an agreement on Monday
with the Edmonton organization on a minor league contract for this coming
season. St. Pierre was attending school
at the Halifax institution while the Oilers and his agent tried to hammer out a
Although he was at the school and willing to play there this
season, it was clear a few weeks ago when speaking with Hockey’s Future that a
professional contract was definitely his preference and playing in the CIS was
strictly plan B.
“Right now I’m not trying to concentrate on school, I don’t
think I’m ready for school,” the playmaking center said. “I want to play pro hockey and to be
studying that in the AHL as a rookie and work my way up. If nothing works out then I’ll go to
Dalhousie, but my priority is definitely to get a contract and not look back.”
There was one other option on the table but…
“I got drafted by Halifax of the WHA but God knows if that’s
going to work,” he smiled.
The Oilers took a chance on the offensively gifted
21-year-old from Emburn, Ontario simply because his statistics from his days in
the OHL more than suggested it would be worth their while. Over the course of the last four seasons,
St. Pierre has amassed 320 points in 257 games including 110 points last year
alone, good for third in league scoring.
As the top scorer for the Guelph Storm, St. Pierre lead his
team all the way to the Memorial Cup through tough playoff battles with the
London Knights and the Mississauga IceDogs.
St. Pierre came to camp sounding like he knew that he needed
to impress as quickly as possible and in as many ways as possible, even going
so far as to list his accomplishments to the media as though reading directly
from his résumé.
“Getting the overage player of the year in the OHL and
getting the Wayne Gretzky trophy as playoff MVP will hopefully help me a bit
with my credibility but it’s one of those things where I only have a few days
here so I have to give it my best,” he said early in the rookie camp.
The playoffs were an exciting time for his team and also for
the fans who even went so far as to pull on replica shirts sporting the names
of their favorite Storm players.
“Dan Paille (BUF), Cam Janssen (NJ) and I, we
all had these little T-Shirts that said, like, ‘St. Pierre 9’ and everyone was
wearing them through the playoffs and it was actually pretty nice,” he
described. “It’s fun after playing for
four years and breaking Jeff O’Neil’s and (Todd) Bertuzzi’s records, it’s fun
to see the respect people have for you and when you go back they always make
you feel comfortable. Guelph is an
unbelievable place and I’m happy to have been with the Storm.”
The records that St. Pierre was referring to were career
marks that he accomplished during the final campaign in the league.
“O’Neil’s was for most assists by a rookie and I was 8
points shy of the all time point record of O’Neil’s; He had 328 and I had
320. Bertuzzi’s was for all time
assists; I had 212 and he had 208 I think,” St. Pierre laughed. “He came to Guelph last year and he said he
didn’t think I was going to break it.
When I did I was going to call him but then that ‘thing’ happened so I
didn’t really think I should push it too much.”
You can imagine that it would be tough not to get too
swelled an ego when you’ve statistically accomplished as much as St. Pierre
has, not to mention the fan club shirts, but when asked about it, St. Pierre
was quick to point out that he’s still firmly in this realm of existence.
“When I won the Gretzky award, it’s unbelievable to have
your name on that trophy especially with one of my best buddies Derek Roy
(BUF) winning it the year before,” he began.
“You win the OHL and your name is with all those great players and
that’s fun but now you have to put all that aside and it’s a new season. Last year I was the oldest guy on my team
and now I’m the youngest guy so I’ve got a lot of things to learn.”
After previous camps with both the New York Rangers and the
Philadelphia Flyers, St. Pierre appears to have found a place within the Oiler
system. Can he play at the American
League level straight out of junior?
There are obviously going to be those who say that he can’t simply
because of his size, or lack thereof, but that’s an argument that seems to be
getting more passé with each new day.
“(The Oilers) gave me an inch too, usually I’m 5’8 but they
made me 5’9 so hopefully people will think I’m a little bit taller than I
look,” he kidded when asked about his height.
In reality the only thing bigger than St. Pierre’s stick might be his
hair, which coincidently might account for the extra inch he was given by the
It’s not on par with the legendary sword Excalibur that was
wielded by King Arthur, but the oversized stick has slowly begun to gain its
own mythical status. Even when wearing
his skates the shaft of his stick stands several inches above St. Pierre’s
head. When the center is squaring off
in the faceoff circle he chokes up so much that at least a foot and a half are
poking out from his top glove hand.
Getting the stick in the first place was an accident but once accustomed
to it, there was no going back.
“I tried to get a one-piece from Louisville and they screwed
up the lie, usually from stores you get a 4, 5 or a 6 lye, and they gave me a
7,” he explained. “The curve was right
so I ended up using it and then when I switched to
the synergies, they can actually make it like that and I just got used to
it. I always try to come down on my off
wing and shoot it low stick side and with the longer stick you get more whip
and it works for me so I might as well keep it going.”
In the two games that the Oiler
rookies played St. Pierre put his stick to good use by netting a pair of
goals. Overall, the weeklong session
was a good showcase opportunity that St. Pierre felt he made the most of. Despite his apparent disadvantage because of
his height, the shifty forward believes he deserves the opportunity to ply his
trade at the professional level.
“A lot of people said I
couldn’t play in the OHL but I’ve broken records there,” St. Pierre
argued. “You play with your heart and
your head and obviously I don’t have the reach or the strength that big guys do
but I just have to play my style, keep it simple and shoot at the net.”
At a time when the NHL scoring champion is another player
who was once deemed too small for the league, it’s an easy comparison to make
to players of a similar stature.
“Martin St. Louis is pretty much the same style of player
and he uses a longer stick like I do,” St. Pierre agreed. It’s a comparison he’s heard a lot
recently. “He’s a little bit stronger
and a little bit faster than me but he’s also five or six years older than me
too. He came out of the University of
Vermont undrafted at 22 and look where he is now as a Stanley Cup champion. Hopefully that can help me and that one day,
I can develop like him.”
“I’m a delay guy in the zone and try to set the tempo to my
style of play. If the opportunity is
there of course I’ll try to put it in but I’m more of a playmaker so I set up
It will be tough for St. Pierre to crack the roster of the
Edmonton Road Runners but now with a contract in his pocket, even a trip to
Greenville and the ECHL is a step in the right direction.
“I’ll take anything pretty much but my main goal is to try
and get a contract here but if I get sent down, that happens to everybody and
you have to work your way up,” St. Pierre told HF before signing his
contract. “It takes time with this
league and I’m ready for that.”
Road Runner camp begins with on ice sessions later this week
and culminates in a pair of preseason games against the Utah Grizzlies (PHX)
being played in Boise, Idaho. The
regular season commences on October 15th when the Hamilton Bulldogs
look to reestablish their heated rivalry with the Road Runners in Edmonton.
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