OTTAWA — The Steven Stamkos rolling media tour hit Canada’s capital city on Thursday as the watch is on for his possible return to the Lightning lineup, which in turn would indicate his availability for Team Canada at next month’s Olympics.
Just past the 11-week mark since Stamkos had surgery on a broken right tibia, the two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner was back on the ice for Tampa Bay’s morning skate ahead of Thursday night’s game against Ottawa.
The 23-year-old participated in most of the drills, sitting out the power play practice, and remained on the ice for an extended session with the team’s scratches.
Stamkos sat out a scheduled practice with the team on Monday and came off after about 20 minutes during Tuesday’s morning skate in Toronto. The team did not practice on Wednesday.
After speaking to the assembled media on Tuesday in Toronto, Stamkos opted not to talk Thursday about any changes or differences the past two days.
But there were plenty of cameras at ice level to record his every move during the skate, and head coach Jon Cooper was asked if there was any update on Stamkos.
“He’s battling to get through and you can’t rush the genetics and the process of everything that goes on,’’ Cooper said. “But every day he gets another day closer. Eventually ... he’s going to have to start battling guys along the boards to see how those instinctive moves go and if he can feel it.
“He can do all the crossovers and go up and down and have the fun, but it’s those battles that will come in to play and that’s going to have to happen soon. But we’ve said it all along, he will not put his health at risk to go to the Olympics.’’
Though Stamkos has been wearing a normal blue-colored jersey, indicating he has been cleared to try those battle drills, he has not done so. With so much scrutiny and attention on Stamkos and his availability for Team Canada while the Lightning make their way through three Canadian markets, it’s likely he would begin more advance battle drills at Monday’s scheduled practice in Minnesota.
Cooper would not have an issue with Stamkos’ first game back coming with Team Canada.
“He’s going to have to play his first game at some point, and I don’t think it matters where he plays that game,’’ Cooper said. “And if you think about it, his first game (for Team Canada) is going to be surrounded by skilled players on a bigger ice surface where hitting probably isn’t as prevalent.
“So, it may be easier for him to play his first game over there. Everything is going to start with the doctors and then it’s going to be up to Steven, who will have to determine if he is ready or not.’’
Cut for the Cure
D Mark Barberio will get to keep his shoulder-length hair a little longer.
Barberio made a deal that when he scored his first NHL goal, he would go for his first haircut in more than two years. But instead of just heading to the barber shop, Barberio will instead be a part of the Cut for the Cure charity event tied to the Vincent Lecavalier Foundation’s fundraiser for Pediatric Cancer and Blood disorder.
More details will be released at a later date, but Barberio will take part along with other teammates to have his head shaved at an event in March.
“I get to keep it for another month,’’ Barberio said.
Nuts and Bolts
D Keith Aulie and C Tom Pyatt are scheduled to be scratched. ...G Ben Bishop is expected to start for Tampa Bay.