Photo by Greg Hamil
When Martin St. Pierre first laced up his skates in the Forest City in 2007, the BMO Harris Bank Center was still known as the MetroCentre, and the Rockford IceHogs were in their first American Hockey League season.
“When I was here five years ago, I remember in training camp, we didn’t have any glass. They were just starting the renovations,” St. Pierre said. “They definitely put all these boxes and stuff. It’s definitely on the right track.”
While the building may still have been updating for the AHL transition in 2007-08, St. Pierre wasted no time setting an IceHogs AHL record that still stands.
The forward recorded 21g-67a-88pts in 69 games, setting point and assist totals that remain franchise single-season records during the club’s AHL era. In 2008, St. Pierre earned an All-Star selection for his efforts, and he’s picked up where he left off five years ago with his return to Rockford in 2012-13.
Through 41 tilts this season, the IceHogs leading scorer has 15 goals and 20 assists to rank in the top 20 among AHL scorers and earn his fifth career All-Star nod.
“The first time, especially as a young guy and a rookie, you don’t really know what to expect,” St. Pierre, who made his first All-Star Game when he was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team in 2005-06, said. “It’s always fun, but to be recognized again a little bit older, 29 years old, to go to my fifth one is just as special.”
St. Pierre isn’t the Hogs only All-Star.
Defenseman Adam Clendening will be joining St. Pierre in Providence, R.I., for the festivities. The rookie is already making use of St. Pierre’s All-Star knowledge while he makes plans for the trip. And while the pair may have played fewer than 40 games together so far, Clendening can appreciate his captain’s talents.
“He’s something special. Just look at the way he plays the game. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s got a lot of talent, great passer of the puck, and he’s got a knack for scoring. If there was one guy that was going to be an All-Star, I would have picked him,” Clendening said.
The same positives stand out to IceHogs Head Coach Ted Dent.
“His vision on the ice and his ability to find guys is exceptional,” Dent said. “He’s also got an edge to him that people don’t know about. He plays physical at times and can actually knock some of those big guys down. I think when he plays physical, it gets him into the game more as well, and it helps his offensive game. And it also gets his teammates involved when they see a guy that’s 5-foot-9 out there trying to take down all the big guys on the other team.”
Dent should know St. Pierre’s skills well. He was an assistant coach with the Norfolk Admirals in 2006-07 during St. Pierre’s second year skating with the Blackhawks previous AHL affiliate. And when the Blackhawks brought their affiliation to Rockford in 2007-08, both Dent and St. Pierre also made the move.
It was that familiarity that helped lead St. Pierre back to the Forest City. Blackhawks General Manager of Minor League Affiliations Mark Bernard gave the center a call over the summer when the IceHogs were looking to add veterans.
And after spending the four intervening seasons between the Bruins, Senators and Blue Jackets organizations, in addition to stops in Austria, Russia and Finland, St. Pierre found it appealing to return to the Blackhawks organization, where he already had a background with Bernard and Dent.
“It’s just a matter of as you get older, you’ve got to find the right fit, whether it’s in the AHL or the NHL,” St. Pierre said. “For me, it’s just a comfort level that they’ve seen me for three years in my younger days as far as the type of player that I am.”
“I had Teddy as an assistant coach, so he knew what I was bringing to the table. Now is a little bit different being a captain and the third oldest player on the team, so it’s more of the younger guys kind of look up to you and you want to share your experiences and the things to do and what not to do,” St. Pierre added.
With his return to the organization, St. Pierre wasted no time finding more ways to put his name in the record books.
On Jan. 5 in Toronto, the center assisted on a first period goal by Marcus Kruger to become the 83rd player in 77 years of the AHL to record 500 points in the league.
St. Pierre knew ahead of time that he was closing in on the mark. So did the other Hogs on the ice when he notched the assist.
“When it got closer, I think guys were putting a lot of emphasis on it. And then before I got it, I think the two games before, I hadn’t had a point, so it was kind of a little bit of pressure,” St. Pierre said.
“It’s a big milestone, but obviously there’s a lot of credit as far as coaches and wingers that I’ve played with that put up the points and scored the goals when I’ve passed. I couldn’t do it all by myself,” St. Pierre added. “I’m not done, so hopefully I can go to 600 or 700.”
Two days later, St. Pierre tweeted a photo of the puck that notched the 500th point, and he still has the memento. St. Pierre recorded another milestone Jan. 21, notching his 600th career professional point when he assisted on Jeremy Morin’s first period goal against the Stars.
And the Embrun, Ont., native isn’t underestimating the role of his relationship with Dent.
“He knows what I can do and he knows when to push my buttons and my limits, whether to scream at me or kind of just let me do my thing. That goes a long way and I think that’s a part of why I’m having success this year,” St. Pierre said.
At the same time St. Pierre is relying on that familiarity with his head coach, the younger IceHogs skaters are looking to their captain for direction.
As far as Clendening is concerned, the captain is doing a commendable job.
“He’s been around,” Clendening said. “He knows pretty much every referee and everything around this whole league, so just learning from him and watching him on and off the ice, it’s been great.”
But St. Pierre isn’t alone in providing leadership for this squad with Ben Smith, Ryan Stanton and Wade Brookbank serving as assistants.
“Even though it’s a younger team, I think we do have a very good leadership group. A lot of guys are second or third year pro, but they’re very mature for their status. They learn quick, but they’re pretty open minded as far as when they have questions to listen to us,” St. Pierre said. “Being a captain is definitely a good role. I like it.”
St. Pierre brings more to Rockford than a scoring touch or leadership as captain, though.
After skating in the Hogs 2007-08 playoff run that saw them lose in the second round to the eventual Calder Cup winning Chicago Wolves, he also remembers what the building sounds like during a playoff run.
“We were older five years ago when we made that push,” St. Pierre said. “This team’s a little bit more skilled, a little more energetic,” he added. “It’ll come down to the stretch and guys buying in to the systems. When I was here last time, that’s what we did.”
“You try to preach it to the young guys, too – the opportunity that’s there – because this building, it’s crazy in the playoffs. I think that’s why we had success against the Wolves. We came up short … but it would be fun for this city again,” St. Pierre said. “You never know what could happen in the playoffs, too. Teams are hot and then they go far.”