Steven Stamkos hopes to be back on ice before season's end
NOV 25, 2013 11:29a ET
The Tampa Bay Lightning center spoke for the first time Monday since sustaining a gruesome right tibia fracture in a loss to the Boston Bruins on Nov. 11 at TD Garden. A timetable for his return is unknown, but the superstar appeared to be in good spirits despite the long rehab before him.
"Pretty good, considering," Stamkos said, when asked how he felt.
Stamkos, 23, walked without crutches or a protective boot when he appeared before the media -- a clear sign of progress after undergoing surgery in Boston on Nov. 12. He holds out hope that he can return sometime near the end of the regular season, though there are no guarantees he will play again in his sixth NHL season.
Stamkos and Tampa Bay's hockey community will remember the sequence for some time: The superstar sprawled face-down on the ice after failing to collect himself following the contact with Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton near a goal. A stretcher carried the two-time All-Star away, a frightening sight that led to doubts about Stamkos' future and the Lightning's ability to extend their hot play without him.
"To be able to do what I'm doing now and almost come back to a normal life, being able to just move around on your own, I'm definitely happy with that," Stamkos said.
Stamkos has begun rehab in Tampa. Recently, he started light exercises to strengthen his leg, and he said he hopes to work toward lacing up skates again in the coming months. He's unsure when that will occur again, admitting the goal remains far off.
But his presence at the Forum was an obvious lift for his team. If anything else, the sight of Stamkos walking among teammates could be an emotional boost for them. The Lightning, who enter Monday night's game against the New York Rangers with 29 points, are 2-4 in full contests since his injury. They have lost four consecutive games, all against Western Conference teams.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper has said no one man will replace Stamkos. Instead, a collective effort will be needed on both sides of possession to compensate for such a large loss. At the time of his injury, Stamkos had 14 goals and 23 points in 17 games, evidence that he was well on his way to extending his reputation as one of the NHL's brightest young stars.
"It's always nice to see a guy progressing after a tough injury," Lightning captain Marty St. Louis said. "Obviously, Stammer is a warrior. ... A lot of smiles on all the guys getting to see him."
Still, many questions remain about Stamkos' future. He said his goal of playing in the upcoming Winter Olympics for Team Canada is "still on the backburner right now," though he admitted his focus has been placed on reaching a point when he can succeed in rehab.
"I guess that's something I've thought (about)," Stamkos said. "It's something I was really looking forward to having a chance to take part in."
Stamkos has watched replays of his injury, and he said he holds no ill-will toward Hamilton. He was relaxed enough Monday to crack a joke about his recovery, saying when referencing the permanent metal rod in his leg, "We were kind of joking in the room that maybe we should get rods in all our bones."
For a short time Monday, there was some semblance of normalcy. After all the texts from concerned friends, after all the well-wishes from fans, there remains a long road ahead for the Lightning's star.
But he was back Monday among teammates in a familiar site. That alone was a welcome sign for him and his franchise.
"I have absolutely no idea about timetable, when he's coming back," Cooper said. "But it's pretty cool to see him mobile without aids. ... He's just been an inspiration. Everybody is pulling for him."
You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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