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Press-box duty doing Stamkos well

by Dan Rosen
MONTREAL -- When Steven Stamkos was sitting in Scotiabank Place this past June waiting to hear his name called by the Tampa Bay Lightning, the last place he thought he'd find himself six months later was the press box in the St. Pete Times Forum.

Press-box duty for an NHL player either means you're injured and can't play, or you have been eliminated from the lineup as a healthy scratch.

Stamkos -- a celebrity in Tampa even before he was drafted -- couldn't imagine either.

Well, he's not hurt right now, but on occasion he does find himself wearing a suit and watching his team play from high above the ice. However, the idea behind his scratching keeps Stamkos from pulling out any of his bleach-blond locks.

After a sub-par first half of his rookie season, the 18-year-old center has been put on a unique plan by the Lightning coaching staff, one Tampa Bay teammate Martin St. Louis said could become a trend in the NHL if it works.

Already twice this month Stamkos has been sent to the press box to take down notes while watching the game. The following day he goes into a "classroom session" with assistant coach Wes Walz to go over his notes and watch some video.

The time off also means he gets in more training time, which the Lightning believe is essential to his ultimate success in the NHL.

"When they first told me I wasn't going to play, that's the thing you're not happy about, but when they said why, obviously they want it for a reason and it's for me to learn," Stamkos told "I have no problem doing that, watching the little details of the game. It's been a good learning experience and a good learning tool."

It also appears to be working.

After his first "classroom session" on Jan. 9, Stamkos responded by going on a three-game point streak. Lightning coach Rick Tocchet made him a healthy scratch again on Jan. 17 against Florida, but he was back on the ice two nights later and scored his second goal in three games.

Stamkos went pointless in the Lightning's last game before the All-Star break, but his four-game scoring streak from Jan. 12-19 was his longest of the season. He enters the second half with 6 goals and 12 assists and admits he's more comfortable now.

"Maybe it was a little wakeup call for me," Stamkos said. "If I was playing great and putting up points, they don't have this program where they sit me. So, definitely I have thought about long and hard and my play over the last four or five games has definitely been a notch higher than it had been in the last month or so. I want to continue that to force them to keep me in the lineup."

The plan as it stands now is for Stamkos to be a healthy scratch once every four or five games. Tocchet doesn't plan on sitting his rookie star two games in a row.

"I'm pretty stuck in my way right now with this, and I think it's the best way for him to get to that next level," Tocchet told the Tampa Tribune. "We are going to use the time he doesn't play to get him better, and I think we'll see a correlation of that, not so much this year, but after a summer workout program we put him on, and I think we'll see an accelerated Steven Stamkos than if we just played him every game."

St. Louis believes they're already starting to see that, especially in Stamkos' decision making.

"He's definitely looked more comfortable out there," the veteran wing told "I think sometimes it's a positive from a negative in being scratched. You get to see the game from a different perspective and you learn from it."
"Obviously I did something right to have the success I did in junior, but here it's a whole new level and you have to learn the ropes. There are so many veterans on our team and it's a new game for me. It has taken me a little longer than I expected to adjust, but things are starting to get on track now." -- Steven Stamkos
Stamkos said he mostly watches the centermen on his team. He focuses on the little things in the game, like "the centerman coming underneath the winger in the defensive zone when we're running around and trying to get the puck out.

"It could be being back for defense in the neutral zone or regrouping there in the middle for support," he continued. "It's being in that quiet area, the high slot area, in the offensive zone when you're not one of the first two guys in on the forecheck.

"These seem like the slightest things for someone who is just watching a game, but for me and the coaching staff these are the things that can make or break a game."

The vantage point from the press box is quite different for Stamkos, who came to Tampa Bay from the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League, where he was a highlight reel waiting to happen.

Stamkos played around 25 minutes a game and on both the power play and penalty kill units. He had 197 points, including 25 power-play goals, in just two seasons with the Sting.

"Obviously I did something right to have the success I did in junior, but here it's a whole new level and you have to learn the ropes," he said. "There are so many veterans on our team and it's a new game for me. It has taken me a little longer than I expected to adjust, but things are starting to get on track now."

Stamkos added that he notices a change in his play from the beginning of the season until now, thanks mostly to the extra training and those "classroom sessions."

"It's not like they just woke up one morning and said, 'Hey, let's sit Steven Stamkos and get him on a training program,' " he said. "It's something they have obviously thought long and hard about and I respect their opinion and respect where they are coming from. The coaches know what is best. They have been in the situation before. They played in the National Hockey League. I'm going to do what they tell me."

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