(Source: Burlington Free Press) – As 4,000 enthusiastic and reminiscing fans saluted him Friday night, a humble Martin St. Louis watched his University of Vermont No. 8 jersey hoisted in retirement to the ceiling of Gutterson Fieldhouse, where he gave the Catamount faithful so many memorable thrills during his four years at UVM.   Vermont’s greatest hockey player and a likely National Hockey League Hall-of-Famer, St. Louis said earlier this week of UVM’s first retired hockey jersey, “It’s an honor and flattering to have my number retired and to be the first one with so many quality players before me.”

What a legend Martin St. Louis is.  Over the course of four seasons (1994-1997) at the University of Vermont the electrifying forward amazed us all with his highlight reel goals.  When it was all said and done St. Louis had put up 267 career points (91 goals) in 139 NCAA games.  It’s the all-time scoring record at UVM and it will never be broken.

As a kid growing up in Vermont it was something to see St. Louis rip up and down the ice in perfect sync with his childhood friend and long time teammate Eric Perrin.  Before Tim Thomas became forever a hero in Boston sports history by winning the Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011, he was the unbeatable goalie backstopping that dominant UVM team between the pipes.  That magnificent trio of players were part of the same UVM class of 1997.

That era of UVM hockey is unparalleled and will never be seen again.  Not because the school doesn’t continue to produce great NHL talent, they do (Patrick Sharp, Torey Mitchell, Viktor Stalberg, Kevan Miller, etc.), but because anyone today who can come close to scoring at the NCAA level like St. Louis could leaves their college program early.  It’s the same thing that goes on in NCAA basketball as well.  The money is immensely better professionally today than years past and the top prospects deserving of a payday are not going to pass up close to millions, if not more, to stay in college the entire four years.  UVM can still contend for Hockey East and Frozen Four appearances, you’re just unlikely to see it multiple times from a core of players that elite sticking together that long.

In the mid-90’s when St. Louis played at UVM the scouts and NHL weren’t willing to hand him anything.  Despite his scoring talents he didn’t really draw much interest at all. The NHL then was all about the massive players roaming the ice.  You had the Philadelphia Flyers and their “Legion of Doom” featuring another UVM-er and Vermont native, John LeClair.  Giants like Chris Pronger, Derian Hatcher, and “Jumbo” Joe Thornton who was taken 1st overall by the Bruins in the 1997 draft set the towering landscape.  Add in that these players were all right in the middle of the trap era of clogged up, slow it down and bore them to death style of hockey that was perfected by the 1995 Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils, and it was not a league tailored for Martin St. Louis.

But it never stopped him.  And anyone from Vermont like myself who watched a lot of his games in person thought St. Louis was the greatest player they’d ever seen.  It didn’t matter that he was always overlooked because of his frame.  Or overlooked by the QMJHL right in his back yard in Laval, Quebec.  Or overlooked by provincial select midget teams.  He wasn’t overlooked by Vermont.  He was our guy.  And the rest was history.

Congrats to Marty for proving everyone wrong and becoming the first UVM hockey player to get his jersey, #8, rightfully retired and hung in the rafters where it belongs.  It’s truly a thrill to see.  Because of you, this once skinny little blogger switched to #8 as a kid and sheathed the sword on every big goal I scored.