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Stamkos, Subban bring childhood bond to All-Star Game

Lightning forward, Predators defenseman were force on youth team

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

Imagine a time when his shot was the weakest part of Steven Stamkos' game, not the strongest.

Imagine a time when P.K. Subban was a forward, not a defenseman.

Those scenarios might be hard to believe for fans watching the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

"Believe it, it's true. That's the way it was at one time when they were kids," said Doug Sheppard, their coach with the 1998-99 North York Canadiens novice AAA team.

This weekend, Stamkos, a Tampa Bay Lightning forward, will be the captain of the Atlantic Division, while Subban, a Nashville Predators defenseman, will be the captain of the Central Division. They have come a long way from their days as teammates playing minor hockey in the Toronto area, complete with early morning practices and stale hot chocolate.

"[Those days] were great," Subban said. "His dad Chris and my dad (Karl) have kept in touch since we were 9 years old. Our families are close."

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That North York team was a juggernaut, sporting three future NHL players: Subban, Stamkos and Vancouver Canucks defenseman Christopher Tanev. They swept the Marlies in four games to win the Greater Toronto Hockey League championship.

"I think we only lost four games all season," Sheppard said.

To this day, Tanev has fond memories of that team.

"It was really cool," he said. "Those two were really incredible, even at that age.

"P.K. was so much bigger than everyone. He'd take snap shots when he was 8 or 9. Go bar down. Things like that. And Steven, he was an unreal skater like he is now."

As the 1998-99 season approached, Tanev and Stamkos were already teammates. It was Tanev's father, Mike, who first made Sheppard aware of Pernell-Karl.

"You have to see this kid who shoots the puck 90 kph at 9 years old," Sheppard was told.

Sheppard thought it must have been an exaggeration, but when he went to scout young P.K. during a West Mall Lightning game, he realized it wasn't.

"The first game I saw, he scored two goals from center," Sheppard said. "Opposing players were jumping out of the way. They wanted no part of being hit by one of those shots."

After wooing Subban to the North York Canadiens, Sheppard decided to switch him from center to defenseman, a positional move that stuck.

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"He was such a big boy, so his skating was a bit lackluster," Sheppard said. "We opted to move him back. We knew he'd be effective there.

"He was so big, he could create room for his teammates. No one was going to run him."

As for Stamkos, Sheppard knew he'd play in the NHL one day.

"He didn't have the best shot back then, but he didn't need it," Sheppard said. "He was such a good playmaker. He was Wayne Gretzky out there.

"He knew where the puck would end up before it even got there."

Eighteen years later, North York must seem like a distant memory for Stamkos and Subban, now 27 and 28 and two all-star captains.

"It's been quite the journey for them," Sheppard said. "But they've both earned it."

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