Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Lightning

Of course Steven Stamkos can’t play in the Stanley Cup final. Right?

John Romano | A lifetime ago, Lightning coach Jon Cooper faced the same decision with an injured captain in the championship round of the NAHL.
Steven Stamkos had core surgery in March and has not been in a game since February. He recently began skating in Edmonton, but there is no indication whether he will play in the Stanley Cup final.
Steven Stamkos had core surgery in March and has not been in a game since February. He recently began skating in Edmonton, but there is no indication whether he will play in the Stanley Cup final. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Sep. 23, 2020|Updated Sep. 24, 2020

Now is not the time for tears. Not even for the captain.

It would be the heartwarming story of the NHL postseason to see Steven Stamkos skate onto the ice for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final tonight against Dallas, but sentimental gestures should probably be resisted.

He can’t gamble with his health and he can’t jeopardize the team’s chances. He can’t be limited to a handful of minutes on the power play, and he can’t take up valuable space on the bench when so many others are already hurting.

Stamkos is not a mascot, and the Stanley Cup is not a participation prize.

We’re in agreement on that, right?

Yet …

Related: Lightning’s Steven Stamkos back in lineup for Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

It was late in the 2007 season when the St. Louis Bandits lost their team captain. Phil Rauch, a 20-year-old defenseman, went feet first into the boards and shattered his heel so badly he could see the doctor wince while looking at the X-rays.

The Bandits were a junior team of mostly college-bound players in the North American Hockey League in their first season in St. Louis after moving from Texarkana. Rauch was the captain, but the star was Pat Maroon. And the head coach was 39-year-old Jon Cooper who, six years earlier, was an attorney representing indigent clients in Lansing, Mich.

Phil Rauch was bound for Canisius College in the summer of 2007 when he played for Jon Cooper and the St. Louis Bandits in the North American Hockey League.
Phil Rauch was bound for Canisius College in the summer of 2007 when he played for Jon Cooper and the St. Louis Bandits in the North American Hockey League. [ Courtesy Phil Rauch ]

At the time Rauch was hurt, there initially were doubts whether he would ever skate again. The idea of being ready to play for the Bandits in the postseason hardly seemed worth considering.

“It was crushing for me,” Rauch said.

Even so, the team was doing well and Cooper encouraged Rauch to continue working out and to keep the vibe positive around his teammates. When the playoffs arrived, Cooper hung Rauch’s stick in the locker room with nine pucks dangling down. Each puck represented a victory on the way to winning the Robertson Cup, and after every win another puck was cut loose.

By then, Rauch had graduated from a soft boot to a pair of skates and was taking to the ice at the end of every practice.

“I was skating very gingerly, and I would tell him, ‘Hey Coop, I’m getting close, I think I can do this.’ And of course he’d say, ‘Yeah, Phil you keep working at it,'” Rauch said. “There was no chance a doctor was going to clear me at that point, but I kept bugging Cooper even though I probably knew it wasn’t feasible.”

The Bandits eventually knocked off the defending league champions and headed to Fairbanks, Alaska, for a final-four round robin. Maroon was scoring goals at a crazy clip and the Bandits reached the championship against Mahoning Valley. The night before the game, Rauch took another shot at convincing Cooper he could play but expected, and got, the brushoff.

Follow all the action on and off the ice

Follow all the action on and off the ice

Subscribe to our free Lightning Strikes newsletter

We’ll send you news, analysis and commentary on the Bolts weekly during the season.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

“The next morning, Coop comes up to me and says ‘Phil, you’re in, man’ I was like, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, you’re playing tonight,'” Rauch said. “I can still remember the moment, I got tears in my eyes. I knew somebody was going to have to sit for me to play, but even that guy wanted it that way. It was the most overwhelming feeling, knowing what Coop and the guys were doing for me.”

The 2007 Robertson Cup-winning St. Louis Bandits team from the North American Hockey League
The 2007 Robertson Cup-winning St. Louis Bandits team from the North American Hockey League [ Courtesy Phil Rauch ]

The Bandits beat the Phantoms 8-4 to win the Robertson Cup, the oldest junior hockey trophy in the United States. Phil Rauch, who went on to play at Canisius College and is now the chief financial officer for a contractor in northern Ohio, skated one shift in the championship game.

“I’ll remain grateful for that for the rest of my life,” he said.

And so …

It’s crazy to think the same thing could happen in the Stanley Cup final.

The severity, and even the source, of Stamkos' injury has been a closely guarded secret around the Lightning. He hasn’t played in a game in seven months, and the Lightning are not about to divulge what the medical staff has to say.

Cooper covered just this type of scenario a few days ago when asked if Stamkos might be activated just for power-play situations.

“I don’t think anybody wants to go into a game and have to sit on the bench the whole time,” Cooper said. "If you’re going to get in the lineup, you have to be in a position that you’re ready to play minutes and contribute.

“But we’ve got a whole medical staff, and then we have Steven, and he’ll be the first to tell you whether he can do it or not. And when that time comes, if it does, he’s going to be put into play, not just to sit on the bench.”

Of course. Of course, that’s how it should be. This is the Stanley Cup final, not a Lifetime movie.

There’s no crying in hockey.

Is there?

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

Advertisement

This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge