Welcome to Stamkos' world
Steve Stamkos, by all accounts, is a great kid. I have to tell you, I was skeptical when I started calling his family, friends, teachers, scouts and former coaches to fill me in. I had heard before Stamkos was kind-of a golden child; good student, humble, thoughtful and a great player. Surely, no one is that good. But more than a dozen interviews later, I'm convinced.
If character counts for anything, Stamkos, 18, is just what the Lightning is looking for as it prepares to make him the No. 1 overall pick of next month's draft. As Blue Jackets scout Andrew Shaw said in today's paper, "This is one of the most special kids I have ever come across, and I've been around the game for 20 years."
Shaw should know. He billeted Stamkos in Sarnia, where Stamkos played for two seasons as a junior and scored 100 goals in 124 games, and told stories about how Stamkos bonded with his foster kids and how he never refused a kid who came to the door asking for autographs.
Dave Turner, the athletic director at Brother Andre Catholic High School, from which Stamkos will graduate on time in the top 20 percent of his class, said Stamkos never even has been sent to the principal's office, "Unless (the principal) wanted an autograph."
So, read the story and I think you'll get a good feel for what this kid is about. I have so much material on Stamkos, much of it did not get into the paper. Here is some more:
- Joe Bowen is the Maple Leafs radio voice and has known the Stamkos family, which lives in Unionville, a suburb of the town of Markham near Toronto. He even plays softball with Stamkos' father Chris. Asked if there was anything more we should know about the kid that hasn't been written, Bowen told the story of how Chris' team of older players "beat the pants" off Stamkos' team of youngsters in a local softball league.
- Stamkos support system was overwhelming, from his parents, Chris and Lesley, to his community league coaches, especially a man named Paul Titanic, who coached Stamkos from ages 9-15. Stamkos said it was Titanic who first taught him to play a complete game and be responsible on defense. Chris and Lesley said Titanic fostered the right culture on his teams.
"We had a team of good people," Titanic said. "One thing that we did, myself and the manager of the team (Stephen Gaunce), we demanded the kids be respectful of everybody and everything involved in the game, to the referees, to their own teammates and coaches. That was huge for us, that they were respectful and unselfish."
Lesley couldn't say enough.
"Paul Titanic taught these kids at a very young age how to behave on and off the ice," she said. "We just sort of supported that and it seemed to compliment each other. We were both on the same page when it came to school work and hockey and how they handled themselves off the ice, respecting adults and respecting the players. We've been very fortunate."
Titanic put the credit right back on the parents. He also credited Stamkos for understanding what it takes.
"When you're the best of the best, and you're still behaving respectfully, and unselfishly, Steven was the lead guy with that," Titanic said.
- Funny story about Stamkos' grandmother Mary Walker, who, with husband, Joe, used to have a place in Seffner. In fact, when Stamkos was 2, he made his only trip to Florida to see his grandparents (the parents of Lesley) and the family made a stop at St. Pete Beach, which is where the baby picture of Stamkos that ran in today's paper was taken.
Anyway, Mary and Joe eventually sold their place in Seffner. Mary, Lesley said, is a huge hockey fan and bought the OHL television package to make sure she saw all of Stamkos' games for Sarnia. Lesley said when Mary heard her grandson likely would be drafted by the Lightning, "She was quite upset that she sold her place."
- Stamkos is so respectful that when I asked him what he preferred, Steve or Steven, he left it up to me. So, here was the calculation. His parents always have call him Steven. His buddies and teammates, he said, always call him Steve. Since I'll be seeing him more around the rink, I called him Steve.
- He wears No. 91 because 19 already was taken when he got to Sarnia. He chose 19 originally because he likes Joe Sakic. He said he likely will stick with 91 in Tampa if he makes the team. Good idea, considering some of the raw feelings about the trade of Brad Richards, who wore 19.
- Here are some words to live by from Stamkos:
On handling the hype: "That's one of the major things that can help you be successful in life is if you don't get caught up in all the media attention and, in my particular case, the rankings coming out and stuff like that. Just stay focused on my game and try to help the team win."
On finishing high school: "That was very important. Once again my parents are pretty strict on the education part of it. And when it came to Sarnia, that was an organization that took schooling very important. There were consequences if you weren't passing your classes. It resulted in less ice time or missing a game or a practice, something of that magnitude. So, in my whole career, education has been very important to me."
On the web site the Lightning has set up touting his coming: "I thought it was pretty funny at first. I actually didn't think they were the ones who put it up. I thought it was just a web site some fans had put together. But once I realized Tampa had put it up, I thought it was pretty cool. It's great to see what they're doing to get fans excited, and I hope they end up taking me."
On who is going to the draft in Ottawa: "I got a whole bunch of people. I think my family ordered 100 tickets; tons of family, tons of buddies and friends. It's going to be a great experience."
On his expectations: "Well, obviously, my main goal right now is to, hopefully, play in the National Hockey League. Like you said, anything can happen between now and the draft. But if Tampa does select me, it would be a great honor for me and, hopefully, I can go in there and prove that I can play at the next level and, hopefully, stick with the team for the whole season as an 18-year-old."
It was a fun few days for me talking to Stamkos and his family and hearing the stories and learning a little bit about a kid whom the Lightning is counting on. Can't wait to see him on the ice.