Blocking the door to the “Players’ Lounge” in the Bruins’ locker room at the TD Banknorth Garden, goaltender Tim Thomas had a piece of advice for recent call-up Martin St. Pierre.
“Don’t do postgame interviews here,” said a half-joking Thomas while squeezing his way through media members to get into the lounge. It was perhaps the first time this season a Bruins call-up didn’t fit into the team’s everyday system.
The big club called up Providence’s top-line center just an hour before the Dec. 20 game against Carolina. He replaced winger Marco Sturm, who was put on long-term injured reserve that day after suffering a knee injury two nights prior. But by the end of the game, St. Pierre knew he would serve as more than just Sturm’s replacement.
Eight minutes into the second period, Patrice Bergeron got the worst of a collision that left him sprawled face-first and motionless at center ice. It was the last thing any member of the Bruins wanted to witness.
“We hate to see a guy like that go down again, especially with Sturm out,” said goaltender Manny Fernandez. “We really need him back, but I don’t think other teams are going to take it easy on us because he’s not in the lineup. We have to concentrate on what’s left, and go from there.”
What’s left is the hope that another call-up will step in and help the team continue its winning ways, like every prior call-up over the first three months of the season. Like the other young Providence Bruins who have seen significant ice time due to injuries — defensemen Matt Hunwick and Matt Lashoff, and forward Vladimir Sobotka — St. Pierre, 25, has been asked to keep the wheels in motion without any setbacks.
“I’m not Patrice Bergeron,” said St. Pierre. “But I can try and fill that role as much as I can. Whether they want me to put the puck in the net and make some plays, or kill some penalties and play strong, I just need to keep my game simple. I can’t do too much and try to be other guys. I just have to do what I have to do, and I think it’s the right fit.”
So far, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound forward has answered the call. Centering the team’s fourth line between Sobotka and Shawn Thornton, Providence’s leading scorer and the AHL’s second-leading scorer at the time of his call-up (10-25-35 in 30 games) entered the week with four games under his belt, recording an assist and a plus-one rating. It may not look like much on the stat sheet, but for what it’s worth, the Bruins haven’t lost a step since Bergeron’s injury.
“I think he’s been a real good fit,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We kind of knew what we were getting when we acquired him. He’s a smart hockey player. He’s been good for us, even on the draws. His line, for the most part, has been playing in the other team’s end, and that’s a credit to him and his linemates.”
Acquired from Chicago in the summer, St. Pierre signed a one-year, two-way deal with the B’s, beginning the season in Providence on a line with Sobotka. He was also a teammate of Thornton’s on Chicago’s then-AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, in 2005-06.
Before this season, St. Pierre had appeared in only 21 NHL games. Projected as an eventual top-six forward in Chicago, he said he believes it was time to move on from the organization after three years.
“I had a lot of trouble my first three years as a pro in the defensive zone,” said St. Pierre. “I always wanted to score goals, score goals, score goals. Once you realize and get a little bit more mature and experienced, you realize, to stay up here, whether it’s on the first or fourth line, you just have to be a complete player and be reliable.”
Julien has utilized the fourth-line center on his top power-play unit in recent situations. And as a player who’s made a living off the power play in the AHL, St. Pierre is happy to contribute on the man-advantage.
“Whether it’s a faceoff in the defensive zone, or a play on the power play, you just have to be a well-rounded player. So when the coach looks down the bench and sees that you’re on the bench, he can trust that you’ll be able to do the job that he wants.”
Danny Picard covers the Bruins for OT and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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