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Eastern Conference finals mark reunion for college teammates Martin St. Louis, Tim Thomas

May 14, 2011, 4:13 PM EDT

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Tim Thomas, Martin St. Louis AP

Every once in a while, a college hockey team will manage to attract players who go on to have special NHL careers. The University of Vermont experienced that kind of season in 1995-96, when Martin St. Louis and Tim Thomas helped the team make it to the Frozen Four for the first time in the program’s history.

St. Louis and Thomas set plenty of career and single season records that still stand, but both players faced bumpy roads to the NHL. After all these years, they still maintain a solid friendship, but those fuzzy feelings will be placed on hold as their teams meet in the Eastern Conference finals.

As it turns out, that isn’t the only connection Thomas will feel with the opposing Tampa Bay Lightning’s players. Joe Haggerty points out that Thomas might not have gone to the University of Vermont if it weren’t for Dwayne Roloson, who played in the University of Lowell’s net.

St. Louis sat next to Roloson at the TD Garden podium on Friday afternoon and jokingly thanked the former University of Lowell goaltender for discouraging Thomas from playing college hockey at Lowell – and instead pushing the Vezina Trophy winner toward the University of Vermont where Thomas and St. Louis put on a show for four years at the Burlington campus.

“Marty is one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever played with – and I’ve ever seen play,” said Thomas. “You know it’s unfortunate that we have to play against each other. That’s the way it works out, though. I couldn’t have more respect for a person as a player and as a human being than I do for Marty.”

As confident as those two athletes are, Thomas and St. Louis probably weren’t expecting to have the success they have experienced in the NHL when they were struggling in the minors and/or foreign leagues. Yet St. Louis already has a Hart Trophy on his resume and Thomas is a Vezina winner, with both players shooting for their second trophies this season.

That’s an excellent sign of success, but it also highlights an undeniable fact: only one of them will play in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. Whenever people generate Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby-type buzz, they forget that those two players aren’t always competing as directly as it might seem. There’s no denying that if St. Louis wants to be successful, that means getting the puck past his former teammate. Thomas has connections to both Roloson and St. Louis, but for 4-7 games, they will be his enemies.

NHL.com shares this amusing retrospective video of the UVM’s remarkable 95-96 season, featuring much younger versions of St. Louis and Thomas.

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