MONTREAL - On a sunny day, in a small chapel not far from where Martin St. Louis was raised, hundreds of mourners bade goodbye to his mother, France St. Louis, in an emotional farewell Sunday that left those in attendance drained.
"The New York Ranger family has been touched by a little Quebec family in a deeply profound way," coach Alain Vigneault said as he recounted the eulogy that Martin St. Louis delivered at Complexe Funerailles de Saint-Dorothee in Laval. "Today was a very emotional, very moving time for our team. Marty took the podium and shared some incredible moments; it was a very deep message; it was a challenging day for us."
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For Vigneault, St. Louis' composure and strength was impressive.
"I don't know how he did it, he's a much better man than I am to be able to do something like that," Vigneault said. "What he's doing and his family, his sister, and his father and his aunts and uncles, everybody that's close to him -- I think what they're doing is they're moving on through our team; the fact that we're still playing is enabling them to cope and handle this challenging situation."
Among those attending the service was a Rangers contingent of about 50, including owner James Dolan, who also is CEO of Cablevision, which owns Newsday.
Also in attendance were former Lightning teammates Steve Stamkos, Teddy Purcell and Mike Smith and members of the Lightning staff, and ex-Canadiens Guy LaFleur and Rejean Houle. Representing the NHL was Kris King, a former Ranger.
The Rangers did not practice because of the service, which came between Game 1 and Monday night's Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals. The Rangers lead the best-of-seven series 1-0 after a 7-2 victory.
Since France St. Louis, 63, died of a heart attack May 8, and the Rangers learned of the loss as their plane landed in Pittsburgh, it has been a difficult balance.
"Today was the big day as far as helping us turn the page," Vigneault said. "But just because of who Marty is and how he's handled it, we've just come to the rink and done our business and that's what we're going to try to do."
Brad Richards, a close friend of St. Louis, a veteran winger who arrived in a March 5 trade, said: "We all know this will probably hit him when hockey's over and he has time to reflect. He's done an unbelievable job of keeping everything together and helping his sister and his dad. You wouldn't expect anything else."
And the circumstances have transformed the team, which was down 3-1 against the Penguins and staged a historic rebound.
"We want it to be a great story, we're not trying to hide that," Richards said. "We've played good hockey all year. [But] the biggest thing is it made Marty get to know the guys and the organization a lot quicker than he would have if that didn't happen. He felt like the organization was there to support him; we felt how passionate he was for us, coming back [from home] and playing. So it just made him and us closer, and he really feels like he's a Ranger now."