Since the moment he re-signed an eight-year extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning two days before he was to hit the free agent market on July 1, 2016, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has maintained Tampa is "a hockey city."
With the 2018 NHL All-Star Game coming to AMALIE Arena later this month, the Tampa Bay area will get to show off its hockey street cred as well as all of the other attractions that truly make this region Hockey Paradise.
And Stamkos will get to serve as the area's tour guide.
On Wednesday, January 3, the NHL announced Stamkos was the leading vote getter in a fan vote to determine the first roster spot and captaincy of the Atlantic Division at the All-Star Game in Tampa on January 28. Stamkos is in his fifth season as the captain of the Lightning. He'll be participating in his fifth All-Star Game and his first as a captain.
"It's very special just to be named to an All-Star Game, regardless of where it's played," Stamkos said in the visitor's locker room at Montreal's Bell Centre the morning after the announcement. "But when it's in your home city, it's that much more special. I know how great the event is going to be because we're hosting it, the amount of work that's gone into preparing for it. It's going to be a great showcase of, like I've said numerous times, a hockey city."
Stamkos was becoming an All-Star Game regular, breaking through for his first appearance in 2011 and earning a roster spot in four-consecutive All-Star Games from 2011 through 2016 (the 2013 and 2014 All-Star Games were cancelled due to the lockout and the Winter Olympics in Sochi, respectively). But a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee robbed him of much of the 2016-17 season and kept him from selection to the 2017 All-Star Game.
Stamkos returned to the ice with a fury in 2017-18. He, along with linemate Nikita Kucherov, opened the season on an 11-game scoring streak, a franchise record for a beginning-of-the-season scoring run. As of this writing, he ranks tied for second in the NHL for scoring. He's the most dangerous power-play producer this season with a League-best 12 power-play goals.
And he's captaining the top team in the NHL over the first half of the season to its best start in franchise history.
"Really excited for him, obviously much deserved, but I think it's pretty cool that Tampa's hosting and the team's captain gets to be the captain there," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "I know he was really honored and excited when he got named. It's a tribute to him, especially these last couple years here and everything he's gone through to fight back and have the year he's having and be able to be the captain of the All-Star Game in his hometown, that's pretty awesome."
Stamkos was one of four players to be named All-Star Game captain, joining Washington forward Alex Ovechkin (Metropolitan), Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban (Central) and Edmonton forward Connor McDavid (Pacific).
The remaining All-Star Game rosters will be determined by the NHL's Hockey Operations Department and unveiled January 10.
Video: Stamkos on All-Star Selection
"I'm sure I'm going to have a couple teammates there as well," Stamkos said. "Probably should deserve to be more, but with the format, we'll see what happens when the rosters are announced. But to be able to share that moment with them is going to be special, especially in front of our home fans who greatly deserve something like this and I'm sure we'll put on a great show."
For the third-consecutive season, the All-Star Game will feature the 3-on-3 All-Star Tournament, where four teams play a 3-on-3, single elimination tournament consisting of three 20-minute games. Each team represents one of the League's four divisions, and the best 11 players - six forwards, three defensemen and two goaltenders - from each division stock their respective rosters.
The Lightning have a few more players beyond Stamkos with strong cases for All-Star Game inclusion too. Kucherov paces the NHL for scoring and has been amongst the top two in the League for goals nearly the entire season. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has more wins and shutouts than any other NHL netminder. Defenseman Victor Hedman has picked up where he left off last season as a Norris Trophy finalist and currently ranks tied for third in the League for defenseman scoring.
And Cooper is a shoe-in to coach the Atlantic squad as the Lightning have led the division for all but a few days early in the season (the head coach of the team with the highest points percentage in each of the four divisions at the halfway point will guide the respective All-Star rosters).
"A lot of deserving guys (on our team)," Cooper said. "There's a lot of deserving guys in the league though. I always think that's tough because…you're leaving some really good players off. But, hopefully some of our guys get in. I think some of the first halves a couple of these guys have had are probably deserving."