Safe to say many people were surprised when Steven Stamkos, just two weeks after breaking his leg in a Nov. 11 game at Boston, walked into his news conference at the Tampa Bay Times Forum — carefully, to be sure — without crutches or a walking boot and with only a slight limp.
Bigger picture, it certainly helped solidify general manager Steve Yzerman's declarations the Lightning's star center will be ready to play at the front end of a three- to six-month window of recovery.
But it also left some wondering just what magic had occurred that allowed Stamkos to make what seemed such a giant leap in his recovery.
For Michael Stuart, professor and vice chairman of orthopedic surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., it was not magic at all but a confluence of four factors working in tandem, not the least of which might simply be "his orthopedic surgeon has done a wonderful job."
Stuart, who also is chief medical officer for USA Hockey, could speak only generally because he does not know the specifics of Stamkos' case, nor has he seen Stamkos' postoperative X-rays.
But Stuart does know Stamkos, and he has a connection to the Lightning: his son-in-law is center Nate Thompson.
So, what is working in Stamkos' favor?
Stuart said it sounds as if Stamkos' fracture was "well-appositioned," that is, not widely displaced, and did not include much soft tissue damage. The titanium rod inserted during surgery stabilized the bone to allow it to bear weight. Stamkos, 23, also is without question "an incredible physical specimen who obviously is genetically gifted, very healthy and young."
"And the fourth thing," Stuart said, "is motivation, mental toughness and a burning desire to return to play as soon as possible. Those four things make for a situation which truly surprised you and other people, to see him walking without a limp two weeks later."
Walking itself helps with healing because weight bearing stimulates bone growth, Stuart said.
"I think it's fair to say he's ahead of schedule," said Stuart, who added he wouldn't be surprised if Stamkos' recovery was quicker than three to six months.
"Athletes, especially hockey players, are extraordinary," Stuart said. "These guys take it to a new level."