For Steven Stamkos
, last season was one of unimagined contrast. The Tampa Bay Lightning forward entered his rookie season with high expectations, fueled by his selection as the No. 1 pick in the 2008 entry draft.
But those expectations initially fell short as Stamkos struggled through the first 40 games of the season with only four goals and 13 points.
“I think the biggest adjustment for me coming in was to have the confidence right away,” Stamkos reflected. “It was obviously a tough start to the season for me, and maybe coming in as a young guy, I respected my opponents a little too much.”
Stamkos recognized that the secret to his success at the NHL lay in the hard work and disciplined effort that had been his hallmark through juniors. Early in the season he followed a strict regime, both on and off the ice; working in the weight room to build up his strength and stamina while occasionally observing the flow of games from the press box.
Eventually, whatever malady had Stamkos in the doldrums dissipated and in the second half of the season, the 19-year-old uncorked his potential, recording 19 goals and 32 points in the final 39 games of the season.
Once he unlocked the door, it wasn’t likely that Stamkos would close it again in the off-season. And he didn’t.
With one week of games remaining in the year, Stamkos received an invitation to join Team Canada for the 2009 World Championship in Switzerland.
“It had been a long season,” Stamkos recalled. “But this was the most amazing opportunity, to pull on the Canadian jersey and play for the national team. Being a member of Team Canada means I am representing my family, my friends and my country.”
Lightning teammate Martin St. Louis
was also selected for the Canadian squad, and Stamkos, who had developed some good chemistry with St. Louis during the latter part of the season, hoped that the chemistry would still be there.
With St. Louis leading all skaters in the tournament in assists Stamkos didn’t miss a beat, picking up where he had left off at the end of the NHL schedule. In nine games he netted seven goals, which tied him, along with Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators and Niko Kapanen of Team Finland, for the goal-scoring lead among all the players in the Championship. He contributed three game-winning goals, five power play goals and was named one of the three best forwards in the tournament by the attending media.
Off that triumph, Stamkos headed for his parent’s house in his hometown of Markham, Ontario, a suburb just north of Toronto. His travel for the off-season was done.
“Switzerland was just a beautiful place,” Stamkos said. “It’s great going to walk around on the cobblestone roads. There are restaurants and little pubs everywhere and the Swiss Alps are all around you. It’s a different atmosphere over there. It was a pretty cool experience. But after that, I kind of wanted to lay low and stick with my close friends.”
After two weeks of relaxing at home, Stamkos knew it was time to get back to work, and so did his former teammate and mentor, recently retired veteran Gary Roberts.
Roberts, a workout fanatic, developed a new training program for Stamkos, in conjunction with his own long-time trainer, Lorne Goldenberg. Then, he invited Stamkos to his home and daily put his pupil through the paces.
“He worked me hard this summer,” Stamkos recalled. “For the first four weeks he actually did every single workout along with me. He pushed me and it was great to have that support.”
It was far from the first time that the veteran had lent his support to the talented rookie.
“He (Roberts) was great to me last season,” Stamkos said. “We sat beside each other in the locker room and lived right around the corner from each other in Tampa, so we developed a pretty good friendship that really grew over the summer.”
So every day without fail, at 9 a.m., there was Stamkos, going one-on-one with Roberts at the gym in Roberts’ home. After the workout, there was time for a round of golf with Roberts, or with some long-time friends from home.
For Stamkos, it was the perfect scenario.
“Things went really well,” he explained. “I’m feeling good and can’t wait to get this season started.”
A season likely to be measured by success, rather than contrast.
Author: Lonnie Herman | TBL.com correspondent