TAMPA — Lightning coach Jon Cooper wasn't sure how center Steven Stamkos would react to the news he won't play for Canada in the Olympics because his broken right tibia has not healed.
So Cooper gave Stamkos the option of skipping the morning skate ahead of Thursday's game with the Maple Leafs at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
But there was Stamkos, doing every drill while skating with as much speed and determination he could muster.
"He wanted to be out there with his team," Cooper said. "He has accepted what is happening. He understands this is a big blow to a dream of his, but he's not letting that get in the way of his coming back to play for us this year. It's pretty impressive."
Stamkos, out since Nov. 11 when he slid into a goal post at TD Garden in Boston, felt so good this week during practices he expected to be cleared to play when he and general manager Steve Yzerman met with doctors Wednesday afternoon.
Stamkos was so confident, he said Thursday that had he been cleared, he would have played against Toronto instead of Saturday against the Red Wings, as originally planned.
But a CT scan showed the callous around the bone was not healed, Yzerman said, and the target now is for Stamkos, who had a titanium rod inserted in the bone, to return Feb. 27 at Nashville, Tampa Bay's first game after the Olympic break.
"I don't think you can really put into words the feelings I've gone through the past 24 hours," Stamkos said. "But I can honestly sit here and say we as a team here, as an organization, did everything possible to give myself a chance (to play in the Olympics). The fact that we're here talking about this being so close is not quite a consolation, but at least I can look myself in the mirror."
"If anything," Stamkos said of what was the first CT scan on the bone, "maybe I wish we would have done that a little earlier so I didn't have my hopes as high as I did heading into the meeting."
Some of the disappointment was eased when teammate Marty St. Louis was named as Stamkos' Team Canada replacement.
"I don't see this as Marty replacing me," Stamkos said. "I see this as Marty deserving a spot on this team."
There also was the comforting thought for the Lightning that because of the Olympic break, which runs Sunday through Feb. 25, Stamkos, who has missed 40 games, could miss just one more before playing.
With practices prohibited during the break until Feb. 19, Cooper said it might be time for Stamkos, who has pushed his rehabilitation hard, to relax.
"That would be good for his mental health," Cooper said. "Go somewhere, jump on an island and sip mai tais for a week. That's what he needs to do."
But Stamkos said, "That's the opposite of what we want to do. We want to keep progressing. If I take a week off, that's not going to help my leg. We want to keep pushing, loosening those muscles, making sure you're still putting pressure on the bone so it's going to continue to heal."
Stamkos, who turns 24 today, said he will stay in Tampa to rehab, and he wasn't positive about how much he would watch the Olympics.
"I feel terrible for 'Stammer' that he's in this situation," St. Louis said. "Obviously, Canada is going to miss him. I think if you ask Stammer if anybody could replace him, I know he would want me, so I'm going to try to go over there and do the best I can."
"At the end of the day, we made the right decision," Stamkos said. "We weren't going to risk any further damage. You want to be able to represent your country on the biggest stage of the game, but that's life. Not everything is going to go your way."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @LightningTimes.