SUNRISE — Steven Stamkos has dealt with more than his fair share of injuries over his career. But the pain that the long and grueling recovery process involves pales in comparison to the frustration of not being on the ice with his teammates.
That’s what keeps the 31-year-old Stamkos pushing through each injury rehab. Each time it gets more difficult, Stamkos admits. He has sustained a broken leg, a blood clot in his shoulder and a torn meniscus in his right knee. And he always returned to be one of the team’s top players.
Stamkos is this year’s Lightning nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded each season to a player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to the game.
The Lightning captain returned from two core muscle surgeries over a six-month span — an injury that sidelined him for the end of the regular season before the pause and most of the Lightning’s run to the Stanley Cup. Stamkos returned briefly in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final — scoring an iconic goal against the Stars — but reaggravated the injury and needed a second surgery in October.
Stamkos returned to lead the Lightning in goals and points for most of the season until he was sidelined a month ago with a lower-body injury that the team said is not related to his previous core surgeries. Despite missing 18 games, Stamkos still ranks second on the team with 17 goals, fifth with 34 points and leads the Lightning with 10 power-play goals.
“It’s definitely not easy,” Stamkos said. “There’s moments where you just feel like you don’t want to have to go through all that stuff because it’s not fun, it’s not easy, it doesn’t feel good. But at the end of the day, hockey is a passion and a love of mine and you just want to be around the guys and go out there and compete with them. There’s no one more frustrated than myself when I can’t be out there helping my teammates. It’s just extremely painful to not be out there so there’s really no other choice. ...
“I still feel like I’m young — in terms of age I know I’ve been around a long time — but I’ve just been trying to put in as much work as I can to be out there and I’m looking forward to getting back out there in a game situation.”
This is the fourth time Stamkos has been nominated for the Masterton Trophy over his 13-year career. The Lightning nominee is selected by a vote of the Tampa Bay chapter members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
“It’s really an honor,” Stamkos said. “You look at some of the players that have won this award in the past, I think coming back from an injury kind of pales in comparison to what some other players have had to deal with and in their careers. In saying that, it is still an honor to have people recognize the work that you do put in trying to come back from injuries because no one really knows exactly what’s going on behind the scenes and it’s not just physically, it’s mentally, too. It’s a grind and it takes a toll.”
Stamkos admitted that after his latest injury, it was initially difficult to see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” But having gone through it several times before, Stamkos knows the physical and mental roller coaster each recovery entails. And inside the Lightning dressing room, coaches and teammates say there’s no one who works harder than Stamkos. Still, it’s been very challenging for the Lightning captain. He credits the medical and athletic training staff in Tampa, and his wife, Sandra, as well as family and friends for their support and keeping him positive.
“Usually when you have an injury or a surgery or whatever it is, the first week or two is extremely, extremely tough,” he said. “Your body is just fighting you in every single way. It doesn’t want to move, it doesn’t want to do anything, you just want to lay in bed. I think it’s just trying to tell yourself, the more you get out there, the more you move, the harder you work, the better you’re going to feel. So unfortunately I’ve had to deal with a lot of those situations, so I know how my body’s going to respond and it’s just putting in the work and putting in the time.
“I just want to get out there and play hockey. That’s what I love to do.”
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