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Stamkos joins Lightning for full morning skate

by Lonnie Herman

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning had a pleasant surprise at their morning skate Thursday when Steven Stamkos hit the ice along with the rest of the team.

For Stamkos, recovering from a broken right tibia sustained Nov. 11, it marked the first time he participated in a full skate. He did not take part in line rushes or power-play drills, but did take part in a 2-on-1 drill and worked on faceoffs.

"It's obviously not a practice," Stamkos said, "but to be able to do some drills with the guys is definitely a positive."

Lightning coach Jon Cooper also saw it as a positive, but still sounded a note of caution.

"He's been pretty eager to get out there and I think his head is further along than his leg is," Cooper said. "I have no problem with that. I like his energy, his eagerness. It's just a sign that every day he is getting closer. That is a good thing. I'm just waiting for the day when [Lightning trainer] Tom Mulligan comes to me and says, 'By the way, number 91 is good to go.' It'll be like a mini-post Christmas."

Until that day, Stamkos is focusing on the smaller gifts.

"[Thursday] was great," he said. "This is the first time I was in for the full skate. Another step in the right direction. It was positive mental-wise, too. It was great to be out there and hopefully it continues to get better like it has. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel."

The light may be in view but there remains some distance to go before Stamkos can reach it.

"There is still pain," he said. "There is still hesitation in certain movements, like the cross-over and turns. Anything that puts more torque on the leg is a sensitive area. But it definitely has improved."

The improvement has been gradual but steady.

"What I've done now compared to even two weeks ago, there is a lot of improvement, so I'm hoping that trend continues," Stamkos said. "We're looking good right now."

Cooper did have one concern watching Stamkos; during the 2-on-1 drill Thursday Stamkos passed on the opportunity to shoot on net and sent the puck across the ice.

"I hope you're not coming back as one of those assists guys," Cooper told him. "We've got enough of those guys."

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