Martin St. Louis achieved many heights during his 18-year career in professional hockey.
He was a hero in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2004 Stanley Cup victory; he played in six NHL All-Star Games and on Canada’s gold medal-winning hockey team in the 2014 Winter Olympics; and he racked up an astonishing 1,000 points over more than 1,000 games. But there were a few things that he lost as well.
“These are not real,” he said, pointing to three of his front teeth. “They took a few beatings along the way.”
Since his retirement in 2015, St. Louis has mostly been out of the public view. A Greenwich resident, he spent much of his time with his family, coaching his three sons in their hockey endeavors. He made an emotional return to Tampa Bay in January when his number 26 was retired, a first for the team.
In August, St. Louis reemerged in a dramatic reinvention as a co-founder in Seven7 LLC, a Stamford-based private investment company focused on providing financial and operational input for start-ups. Teaming with former hockey player turned real estate executive Jeff Hamilton and Hedgeye Risk Management founder and CEO Keith McCullough, St. Louis acknowledged that this new endeavor is a different challenge for him. (The company’s name comes from the sum of St. Louis’ and Hamilton’s former numbers — 26 and 51.)
“I don’t pretend to be smarter than I am,” says St. Louis, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in community development and applied economics from the University of Vermont prior to his hockey career. “I am new to this, and I am learning every day.”
Nonetheless, St. Louis’ unique insight into the hockey world was the impetus for three of Seven7’s first investment targets — Sauce Hockey, a sports apparel company; EZ Ice, a customized backyard ice rink that can be installed in under an hour on any surface; and LiveBarn, an online broadcaster of amateur and youth sports across the U.S. and Canada, including hockey games. “What I’m comfortable with right now is anything with sports,” St. Louis adds. “As we progress, we are going to diversify the portfolio. We’re not just going to be a sport company. We like innovation.”
For many sports lovers, St. Louis’ hockey career was a quiet victory over a seemingly endless skein of doubts about his abilities. Born in Laval, Quebec, in 1975, St. Louis began his professional hockey career as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Vermont. At 5 feet 8 inches tall, St. Louis was initially viewed by most NHL teams as too short for the ice — the Ottawa Senators offered him a tryout prior to the 1997-98 season but opted not to sign him — and he wound up with the Cleveland Lumberjacks in the decidedly less-than-stellar International Hockey League.
“For me, I had smaller players I looked up to when I was young,” St. Louis remembered in a 2015 interview with the New York Post. “And when I was looking at little guys, it was, ‘They’re there, why can’t I be?’”
St. Louis got his wish when the Calgary Flames signed him in February 1998 following his extraordinary 50 points in 56 games during his debut season with the Lumberjacks. But Calgary seemed to lose its enthusiasm for St. Louis, shuttling him between the main team and its minor league affiliate before exposing him to the NHL Expansion Draft in 2000. This turned into a rerun of his initial foray into the NHL — no other team was interested — and Calgary dropped him from its roster. St. Louis signed with the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning, which was arguably the league’s least-respected team.
His presence helped Tampa Bay regain its mojo. It reached the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in 2003 and returned the following year to win the tournament. That season also saw him win the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer and the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s most valuable player.
Yet when the Lightning’s general manager Steve Yzerman was given the same position with Canada’s Olympic ice hockey team, he excluded St. Louis from the 2014 team. He was only added after another player was dropped due to an injury. Deeply hurt by Yzerman’s initial snub, St. Louis requested and received a trade to the New York Rangers, where he helped bring the team to the Stanley Cup finals in 2014. He retired from hockey the following year.
“When I retired, I was 39 turning 40 and I was playing with kids much younger than me,” he recalls.
Looking back on his career, St. Louis appreciated being a fan favorite in the U.S. and Canada. However, he says that fans in the two countries view the hockey experience through very different lenses.
“The Canadian hockey fan is exposed to it at a much younger age than the overall American hockey fan,” he says. “Geographically, there are some hockey hotbeds like Boston, Michigan and Minnesota where they get in at a young base. But overall, most people in the United States become hockey fans at an older age. Most American hockey fans never played the game, where in Canada most hockey fans have played.”
While having full faith in the companies he is studying for investment support, St. Louis recalls the opposite experience as a player — having money dangled before him for endorsing products and companies that meant little to him. “I always felt when I played people wanted me to endorse XYZ without my really knowing anything about the company and (perhaps) not even liking the product,” he says.
However, one endorsement managed to enrich his wife Heather, albeit while gently bruising his pride. “My favorite one was with Crest,” he says. “They wanted my wife, too, but they didn’t know that my wife has unbelievable teeth. So, the whole thing turned out to be my wife’s endorsement. I became the supporting act.”
This is one sports star, though, who has no trouble sharing the spotlight — on or off the ice.
For more, visit seven7llc.com.