OTTAWA -- Steven Stamkos is savoring his first chance to represent Canada in a best-on-best tournament as a professional.
The Tampa Bay Lightning forward looked like a lock to get his first chance at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, but he broke his leg in Nov. 2013 and didn't recover in time to take part despite a frantic rehabilitation schedule.
When he found out on the eve of the Olympics he wouldn't be going to Sochi, he left on a vacation.
Canada wound up winning its second gold medal in a row in men's hockey.
"After rehabbing 4-5 hours a day, I kind of just wanted to get away," Stamkos said Monday. "I caught the gold medal game. It was a party that you wish you were there with the guys. I think I was in the Cayman Islands. A lot of Canadians down there too, so the game was on everywhere. It was tough not being able to play on that team with all the hard work I put into it, so that's why I think this tournament and playing on this team is a little more special."
But Stamkos is healthy and will play for Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. He said he likes the World Cup format because it is more inclusive than the Olympics, world championships or previous World Cups.
"This is probably a tournament where you have all the best talent from around the world in one tournament," Stamkos said. "There's usually guys left out that their countries don't make it, whether it's the Olympics or the world championships or the previous World Cup.
"You look at the North America team and Team Europe, and there's a lot of players who might not have got the opportunity to play in a tournament like this. You really do have the majority of the best in the world playing in this tournament. I'm not sure you could say that in any other format that's been played before, so I think that's unique and special in its own right. I think the quality of the hockey is going to be the best we've seen in a long time."
Stamkos, who had surgery for a blood clot near his right collarbone in early April, returned late in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
He stopped taking blood thinners after the season and tests showed "everything was great."