Stu Cowan: Martin St. Louis keeping in touch with Canadiens

“I continue to speak with Marty multiple times a day,” interim head coach Trevor Letowski says. “He’s still involved.”

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While head coach Martin St. Louis isn’t with the Canadiens on this current road trip, he is still checking in to see how things are going.

St. Louis left the team indefinitely Friday in Calgary to deal with a family matter. Assistant coach Trevor Letowski has replaced St. Louis on an interim basis and was behind the bench Saturday night when the Canadiens lost 5-2 to the Calgary Flames. Letowski will be back behind the bench Tuesday in Edmonton when the Canadiens face the Oilers (9 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

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“I continue to speak with Marty multiple times a day,” Letowski told reporters in Edmonton Monday after the Canadiens practised at Rogers Place. “He’s still involved. As far as the overall tactics and the expectations for the group, that remains the same.”

Before Saturday’s game, it had been four years since Letowski ran a bench as head coach.

The 46-year-old was hired by the Canadiens in the summer of 2021 after spending 10 seasons coaching in the OHL, the last three as head coach of the Windsor Spitfires. Letowski’s teams never made it past the first round of the OHL playoffs, but the Spitfires did win the Memorial Cup in 2017 as the host team with him as an associate coach under head coach Rocky Thompson. The Spitfires had a 34-20-8 record during Letowski’s last year in Windsor before COVID-19 shut down the 2019-20 season.

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Letowski had a connection with former Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme, which is how he ended up in Montreal. Letowski was an assistant coach under Ducharme when Team Canada won gold at the 2018 world junior championship.

“I developed a productive relationship and a great bond with him, especially during the experience we shared behind the bench for Team Canada at the 2018 world junior championship,” Ducharme said after Letowski was hired.

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Since St. Louis was hired to replace Ducharme in February 2022, the only other new addition behind the bench has been Stéphane Robidas, who was hired as an assistant coach in the summer of 2022 to replace Luke Richardson after he was named head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks. Letowski and Alex Burrows remain as assistant coaches and Éric Raymond is still the goalie coach.

St. Louis, Letowski, Robidas and Burrows all played in the NHL, but the road to get there wasn’t easy for any of them.

St. Louis had a Hall of Fame playing career despite never being selected at the NHL Draft. Burrows played 913 games in the NHL despite never getting drafted. Robidas played 937 games in the NHL after being selected by the Canadiens in the seventh round (164th overall) of the 1995 draft and Letwoski played 616 games in the NHL after being selected by the Phoenix Coyotes in the seventh round (174th overall) of the 1996 draft.

The most impressive thing this season about the young, rebuilding Canadiens is their compete level, which is something that might have rubbed off from the coaching staff.

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“There’s a lot of care in that room and we talked a little bit about how our culture’s growing,” Letowski told reporters in Calgary after Saturday’s game. “As a staff, we’re proud of the team, how much they care about each other. I think they showed it when we went through this over the last 24 hours how much they really care about Marty and everybody.

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“If you don’t have the right leadership, I don’t think you have that feeling in your room,” Letowski added. “So that’s really exciting for us that our leadership and our young leaders are really stepping up and they really care and care about each other. That’s a really good sign.”

Letowski said it was a “pretty cool” experience to be a head coach for a game on Hockey Night in Canada Saturday, but added he’s getting a lot of support from the other coaches.

“We have a really close-knit staff and we attacked it as kind of a group mentality,” he told reporters in Calgary after the game. “We even included our players with that. It’s a partnership. We tried to just all work together, try to grind out a win. We just fell short.”

Apart from having played against him in the NHL, Letowski said he didn’t know St. Louis well when he was hired as head coach of the Canadiens, although they did have some mutual friends.

“Our relationship has grown … we’re pretty close,” Letowski told reporters in Edmonton on Monday. “I think we’ve really gotten closer as time goes on. Any time you coach at this level there’s so many hours that go into it. We spend a lot of time together. We do share a lot of the same vision as far as the way that the game should be played, for sure.

“I get a ton of support from the staff, from Burr and Roby in particular,” Letowski added. “But the extended staff, too, has stepped up. We’re all in it just trying to do this together. It’s certainly not just me.”

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