He Proved That Size Doesn't Matter

Plus: A jaw-dropping moment, wisdom from a hungry dog, and much more.

Happy Sunday! 🐶

Jason Kelce (the embodiment of the underdog mentality) retired this past week.

While it’s a sad day for Eagles fans like me, I feel fortunate to have witnessed his legendary Super Bowl parade speech in person at the art museum.

What a day that was!

Today’s story is about a player who proved that size doesn’t matter.

When his days were numbered, he flipped the script and silenced the critics, paving the way for a new generation of undersized players.

Here’s what’s coming today:

  • From “too small” to the Hockey Hall of Fame

  • The one-legged college baseball player(s)

  • Wisdom from a hungry dog

Let’s dive in 👇

UNDERDOG TRIVIA 🤔

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How a 5'8" Undrafted Winger Defied the Odds to Become an NHL Legend

Martin St. Louis NHL underdog story illustration

“To face as much (adversity) and end up going to the Hall of Fame…I don’t think you’ll see that again.”

They say that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.

While Martin St. Louis was far from a goon or enforcer in the hockey world, he certainly had to fight his way through the ranks to become one of the best players to lace up a pair of skates.

In an industry where towering figures and oversized personalities dominate the spotlight and headlines, an individual from Laval, Quebec, standing just 5 feet and 8 inches tall defied conventional wisdom.

Through sheer determination, belief in himself, and an elite skillset St. Louis became the definition of an underdog turned champion.

Born on June 18th, 1975, Martin St. Louis did what many Canadians do as a youngster – he joined a hockey team.

Add into that the pond hockey games and skating at a rink that was just two hundred yards from his house, St. Louis was able to channel his imagination of playing with or against his hockey heroes Mats Naslund, Wayne Gretzky, and Mario Lemieux virtually any time he wanted.

It wasn’t uncommon for Martin’s father, Normand, to arrive home at 7 am after working two jobs to see his son waiting with his skates already on, begging to go to the outdoor rink. 

Regardless of the frigid temperatures, Martin was there waiting, “Please, Dad! Please, Dad!”

Although St. Louis struggled during his bantam year of rep hockey – the first season where body checking is legal – he fought to stand out among the big boys with his skill and burning desire.

This undrafted winger who was 'too small' to play in the NHL became a Hockey Hall of Famer

At the age of 18, St. Louis suited up for coach Mike Gilligan as a member of the University of Vermont Catamounts.

While he garnered interest from nearly 30 NCAA Division I programs, he decided to attend Vermont because it was just a 2.5-hour drive for his parents to come to watch him play.

Not long after he’d gotten cut from two rep teams as a kid, St. Louis became a star attraction for the Catamounts, skating alongside future Tampa Bay teammate Eric Perrin. 

“He made that place (Gutterson Fieldhouse) electric,” Gilligan said.

“When he touched the puck, everybody would get out of their seat. I haven’t heard noise like that since.”

All-Rookie Team, First Team All-Star, All-American, NCAA scoring leader, NCAA Frozen Four, Hobey Baker Award finalist.

Considering all of the highlights on St. Louis’ resume, one would have no problem believing that an NHL team would at least give him a look after his final year of college.

That was not the case.

Every team passed on Martin St. Louis in both the 1996 and '97 NHL Draft.

Undeterred, St. Louis headed to the International Hockey League to play for the Cleveland Lumberjacks where he recorded 50 points in 56 games.

Considering that a number of former NHL players were on his team, St. Louis was not wrong in thinking, “If those guys were NHL players, I’m pretty sure I can play at that level.”

A day after participating in the IHL All-Star Game, the Calgary Flames offered St. Louis a shot at playing in the big league.

Clearly, there was a difference in the speed, knowledge, skill, and talent between the IHL and the NHL as St. Louis quickly noticed.

He struggled to repeat the success he had in university and the minor leagues.

“I don’t think I was ready mentally,” St. Louis said.

“I was putting the NHL on such a pedestal. I was up and down and was so nervous when I got to play in the NHL.”

After two relatively unproductive seasons in Calgary, St. Louis found himself unprotected for the 2000 NHL Expansion Draft.

Given a second chance to make an impression with the Tampa Bay Lightning, it took a while for him to find his way.

Playing a bottom-six role, the right winger recorded just six points in his first 20 games.  He was a healthy scratch in a number of games.

“I felt like my days were numbered in the NHL,” he said.

“I thought, ‘If I can’t play for Tampa Bay, I was done.’ So I’m like, ‘You have to go down swinging.’”

Knowing that the clock was ticking, St. Louis started playing looser, more carefree, and slightly more selfish – looking to get his, rather than playing it safe.

Martin St. Louis quote: I felt like my days were numbered in the NHL. I thought, ‘If I can’t play for Tampa Bay, I was done.’ So I’m like, ‘You have to go down swinging.’

With a more aggressive mindset, he went from a player known for just dumping the puck in to holding onto it more and looking to create something offensively.

He began to blossom into the player that he and then Lightning GM Rick Dudley believed he could be.

“We knew he had something special. But nobody knew at that point he would develop into an NHL All-Star and a Stanley Cup champion.”

During St. Louis’ 13 seasons in Tampa Bay, he collected:

  • A Stanley Cup title (the first of the Lightning's three championships)

  • 6 All-Star Game appearances

  • 3 Lady Byng awards

  • 2 Art Ross trophies

  • The Hart Memorial trophy

While the individual honors were nice, it was the Stanley Cup that meant the most. 

“Winning the Cup made it all worthwhile. It was the ultimate validation, not just for me, but for everyone who believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself.”

Although his trophy cabinet was full of awards, St. Louis’ impact on the sport meant more than just a gold-plated piece of hardware or plaque.

He became an inspiration for players of all ages who are told that they are “too small”, “too slow”, “not strong enough” or ultimately “not good enough”. 

It wasn’t just on the NHL level that St. Louis was overlooked.

After being selected to play for Team Canada in the 2006 Olympics, the crafty right winger was regulated to reserve status for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and then found himself on the 2014 gold medal-winning roster only after Steven Stamkos was sidelined with an injury. 

A year before St. Louis hung up his skates, another undersized winger made his way into the Calgary Flames locker room.

Nicknamed “Johnny Hockey”, Johnny Gaudreau noted that St. Louis’ journey inspired him.

“He’s a prime example that size doesn’t matter. If you have the heart and the work ethic, you can achieve anything.”

🐶 

Today’s featured story was written by our friend in the north, Steve Lee. If you enjoyed it, maybe you could share it with a friend?

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TOP STORIES 🗞️

🏈 “Everyone said I was too small. I didn’t have what it takes.” In honor of his retirement last week, I compiled the best quotes from Jason Kelce’s legendary career. [Joker Mag]

⚾️ “The first thing I thought was, ‘I’m not going to play baseball again.’” But he did. Here’s how Greg Dunn made college baseball history as a one-legged first baseman. [Anthony Castrovince @ MLB.com]

😯 Don’t let the sensationalist title fool you. This video covering the most unique players in football history is worth a watch. [REBOUND Football on YouTube]

FEEL-GOOD POST ☀️

For more context, read the 2nd “Top Story” above.

⭐ Trivia Answer:

A) St. Louis Cardinals – You can learn more about Tank here.

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Til next time,
Tyler

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Extra Innings…

  • In case you missed it: I wrote about a life-changing experience that led me to create this newsletter.

  • “Sports mean more in Philadelphia.” Listen to this emotional call from a combat veteran who sought help from Jason Kelce in the darkest time of his life.

  • Quick update on my book: 11 chapters down. I’ll be finishing up one of the book-only exclusive stories this upcoming week. Stay tuned!

  • My favorite subscriber reply from last week 💌 “I was an underdog, just like you! These stories inspire me and remind me to never give up.”

  • Wanna sponsor this newsletter? Let’s chat.

  • If you made it this far: “I’m getting an ice cream for that!” ⛳️

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