Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper is rooting for Steven Stamkos to make it to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, even though he knows the additional time off during the upcoming break would give the center's broken right leg the appropriate amount of time to heal.
Stamkos hasn't played since he crashed into the goal and broke his right tibia in a game against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Nov. 11. He is targeting the game Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings as his return date and is hopeful of it going well so he'll feel confident about playing in the Olympic tournament, which for Canada begins Feb. 13.
Center - TBL
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 23
SOG: 60 | +/-: 11
"I'm legitimately cheering for him to play, but you just sit here and say, 'If he was going to get hurt, why couldn't he have gotten hurt like a week-and-a-half or two weeks earlier?'" Cooper said Monday afternoon. "Or, 'Why couldn't the Olympics be a week later?' It's going to come right down to the wire on this one, but if anything [Monday], he looked pretty good in practice. It was his best day. I talked to him after and he said it was his best day yet. He was pretty encouraged."
Stamkos has been practicing with the Lightning for a while, but the workout in Minnesota on Monday was by all accounts his most physical.
"It wasn't a huge battle practice, but there was a little bit of contact and he kept jumping in," Cooper said. "It got to the point where I had to stop the practice and be like, 'Guys, it's OK to hit him, because he needs to get hit.' Then he jumped into some power play stuff too."
Cooper acknowledged that Stamkos talked about targeting Saturday a few days ago, but nothing has been decided.
"He said, 'I'm going to target this, and if that game doesn't happen we're going to have to sit down and figure out if the Olympics are right for me,'" Cooper said. "If he doesn't play in the game, it doesn't necessarily mean he's not going [to the Olympics], but he's just going to have to think it through.
"We'll play [Tuesday] in Minnesota [against the Minnesota Wild] and then I think he'll get another X-ray. The other thing is, the doctor has to go in there and say, 'OK, you can play.' It can be taken out of [Steven's] hands."
Cooper said he sympathizes with Stamkos and understands why the Olympics are important to him.
"I know for Stammer, the Olympic experience is one thing, but his whole thing is, 'I think we can win a gold medal and I want to be a part of it, I want that,'" Cooper said. "So, it's hard for him to look down the road and say, 'Well, what if we don't go to the Olympics again, this is my one shot.' I feel for him.
"I know the Lightning is his job, but this is one thing you can talk about and tell your kids about. I know a lot of our fans don't want him to go because they just want him for us and I completely understand that, but he won't play in the Olympics if he wasn't ready to play for us."