VANCOUVER – Tampa Bay Lightning scoring star Steven Stamkos says he can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's behind an X-ray of his broken right leg and the titanium rod running the length of his tibia.
Seven weeks after Nov. 12 surgery to repair the tibia he fractured in a collision with a goal post during a game against the Boston Bruins the day before, Stamkos is skating almost daily, feeling better every time, and looking forward to another X-ray next week.
The two-time winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's top goal scorer sounded optimistic about his goal of coming back to play games for the Lightning before joining Team Canada for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The Canadian roster will be named Jan. 7.
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But Stamkos knows it will be up to those X-rays.
"When I had the surgery, it's a three-to-six month window, so I'd like to think I can be on the quicker side of that, but it's all up to the bone," Stamkos said after skating a second straight day in Vancouver. "You get the X-ray done and everything looks great so far, but until that bone is healed you are not going to get clearance to play."
Stamkos said he has become something of an amateur physician during the healing process, and said being able to see progress in the X-rays he's had done every two weeks has been reassuring. The 23-year-old can't wait to see the progress of an injury that left most cringing.
"Just the cloudiness around the bone, which is the new bone healing," Stamkos said. "Mentally it helps seeing that as well. The doctor can say it looks great, but you always want to take a look for yourself and see the progression and see the healing. It's been cool that way."
In the meantime, Stamkos is doing everything in his power to make sure he is ready when the healing is finished. He's progressed past the underwater treadmill, has been skating since mid-December, and is ramping up his activities on and off the ice, including work with fitness guru and former player Gary Roberts during the Christmas break.
"I am still a ways away, but you can see the light at the end of the tunnel and you want to make sure you stay focused and are not going too hard, especially at the seven-to-eight week mark, when there is a lot of healing being done," Stamkos said. "[Not pushing too hard is] one of the harder things, but your body is pretty good at letting you know what you can and cannot do. We've come to a stage now where everything has gone extremely well, you don't want to overdo it and have a set back; that's the worst thing you can have right now."
Stamkos certainly didn't look like he was holding back in Vancouver. Wearing shin pads and a tracksuit, he joined teammates at the end of practice Tuesday, even taking a turn in a shootout drill. He was back on the ice at the end of the morning skate Wednesday, making quick turns, doing cross-overs and taking one-timers.
"It's more the turns and cross-over stuff, things that are going to put torque on that leg, especially in the area the bone was broken," he said. "In a straight line I can go pretty quick, obviously not to where I'd like to be in game shape, but straight line I've felt great for a while now. It's about turning and mentally trusting it. There is a little pain and swelling, that's to be expected, but for the most part I have seen progression each time I have been on the ice.
"Mentally that is very pleasing for me."
Stamkos, who was among League scoring leaders with 14 goals and 23 points in 17 games when he was injured, has also felt steady improvement in his weight-room sessions.
"I'm seeing the progression off the ice as well and that's huge for me, strengthening the glutes and quads on that leg," he said. "It's amazing how hard you have to work to get it and how quick it goes."
Stamkos said time has also flown by since getting hurt, especially the Olympic countdown, with just more than a month to the start of the Sochi Games and less than a week until Canada names its roster.
Stamkos can't make any guarantees, but has kept that goal in sight.
"I'm a pretty driven guy," he said. "I set goals for myself and I do anything possible to attain them. If I can't attain them at least I can look myself in the mirror and say I did everything in my power to try to attain that. That's something that is a goal of mine. I want to come back and play hockey for the Tampa Bay Lightning before I go to the Olympics, if that's the case, and it's nice to have that goal, something to motivate and push you on some tougher days."