Stu Cowan: Family rightfully the top priority for Canadiens' Martin St. Louis

St. Louis shows his passion for hockey on a daily basis, but has said his “raison d’être” is as a husband and a father.

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Martin St. Louis was asked earlier this season why he thinks there are only two Hall of Fame players now coaching in the NHL — him with the Canadiens and Patrick Roy with the New York Islanders.

“I would say the No. 1 thing for me is it’s the commitment,” St. Louis said. “It’s not a 9-5, five-days-a week (job). It’s 24/7, I feel. Everything in life comes at a price. You’re giving up something to do that. The time with your family and, I assume, a lot of guys want to be around their family, probably. I think for Patrick now vs. maybe when he was (coaching) in Colorado I think his kids are older. For me, I was fortunate enough to have kids at a young age that I felt I was ready to do that (coach in NHL) because my kids were older, too. But everything comes at a price. I think it’s the commitment that comes with the job.”

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Before Saturday night’s game against the Flames in Calgary, the Canadiens announced that St. Louis would be away from the team indefinitely for family reasons and that assistant coach Trevor Letowski would assume the head-coaching duties. The Canadiens lost 5-2 to the Flames and defenceman David Savard — who has three children of his own — let it slip during an intermission interview on TVA Sports that the players were trying to win the game for St. Louis’s son.

My thoughts and very best wishes are with St. Louis and his family as I’m sure is the case with all Canadiens fans.

Fans can argue over whether they think St. Louis is a good coach — I believe he’s a very good one and will keep getting better — but there is no doubt he is a very good man. St. Louis and his wife, Heather Caragol, who met at the University of Vermont, have three sons: Ryan, 20, plays at Brown University, 18-year-old Lucas plays for the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints, while Mason, 16, plays for the Mid-Fairfield Rangers in Connecticut, where the family home is. St. Louis lives in Montreal by himself during the season.

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After retiring as a player in 2015 following 16 seasons in the NHL, St. Louis knew he eventually wanted to coach in the NHL, but first he wanted to focus on his family. He spent seven years coaching kids — including his sons — with the Mid-Fairfield Youth Hockey Association and did some consulting work with the Columbus Blue Jackets under head coach John Tortorella, who he won a Stanley Cup with in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I always told my wife that the only way I would leave my family a little bit early is if I got a head (coaching) job in the NHL,” St. Louis said last summer on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast. “I told her: ‘Don’t worry, it will never happen.’”

It did happen and the opportunity to coach the Canadiens was too good to pass up.

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Last month, on the second anniversary of being coach of the Canadiens, St. Louis spoke about his passion for hockey, but added that his “raison d’être” was as a husband and a father. He also spoke about how he was a bit of a father figure to the Canadiens players.

“I think coaching is a lot like parenting,” he said. “So there’s times, yeah. I really care about these kids. To me, they’re kids. I know some are older than others, but I care for them like they’re my own.”

Now, it’s time for St. Louis to focus on his own family and his privacy should be respected. The Canadiens have 15 games remaining this season.

Family has always been the priority for St. Louis. His mother, France, died suddenly from a heart attack in 2014 at age 63 when he was playing for the New York Rangers. She instilled confidence in her son after he got cut from a Laval peewee double-A team and when he was passed over at the NHL Draft because of his size.

“Show them, Marty,” she would say.

He certainly did that.

St. Louis’s father, Normand, attends most Canadiens games at the Bell Centre and always looks like he is beaming with pride about his son. He should be. Normand was the 10th of 14 children in his family, growing up in Mont-Laurier and working in the family lumber mill.

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“My dad didn’t have time to be an athlete,” St. Louis said during a one-on-one interview in his Bell Centre office shortly after taking over as head coach of the Canadiens. “My dad started working at 8 years old on the wood mill. He played hockey outdoors on Sundays with his brothers and other families. So if anything that my dad passed down to me is the work ethic. But, more importantly, how you treat people with respect no matter who you are, what you are.

“My dad really helped me to be a good human, not a good hockey player,” St. Louis added. “I think that’s more important than anything to have success.”

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