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Tampa Bay Lightning

Stamkos walking two weeks after breaking leg

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Published:   |   Updated: November 26, 2013 at 12:11 AM

TAMPA — Two weeks ago, Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos lay in a hospital room unsure of his future after breaking the tibia in his lower right leg.

When would he be able to walk?

When would he be able to play again?

Were his Olympic dreams shattered when his leg slammed into that goal post during a game in Boston on Nov. 11?

“I remember especially being on the stretcher leaving the ice and all of that kind of going through my head,’’ Stamkos, 23, said Monday at a news conference at the Forum, his first public comments since the injury.

“The Olympics, that was something that definitely went through my head, as well. It’s just tough (because) you know that something is wrong and you’re going to miss an extended period of time.’’

One day after his leg was broken, the two-time winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goal-scorer had surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston to set the break and insert a titanium rod. He returned to Tampa on Nov. 14 and began rehabilitation right away.

On Monday, Stamkos walked into the news conference without crutches, a walking boot or a cast.

“I didn’t think I’d be walking on my own without a boot or crutch less than two weeks after surgery,’’ said Stamkos, who was leading the NHL in goals and points at the time of the injury. “But it’s pretty amazing the work that can be done. And I’ve already started rehabbing and I feel pretty good, so things are good right now.’’

There is no timetable for Stamkos to return to the Tampa Bay lineup or even a goal-oriented timeline for his recovery. But with rehab already underway, including light weight-bearing exercises with the leg, the signs are encouraging it could be shorter than the normal 3-6 month recovery for such an injury.

“My focus right now is getting to a place where I can get healthy and start rehabbing and getting into shape and get back on the ice and stuff like that,” Stamkos said. “That’s the short-term goal right now. ...But we are definitely not going to rush anything or take chances.’’

Stamkos had been expected to be a key member of Canadian team at the Winter Olympics in February. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, who also is in charge of putting together the Team Canada roster, said playing in the Olympics has not been ruled out.

“Our initial impression is that we’re encouraged he’ll be back on the shorter end of the recovery time period,’’ Yzerman said. “The No. 1 underlining factor is that we’re going to make sure we do what’s best for Steven’s long-term health. He’s got a long career ahead of him and we’re not going to do anything that jeopardizes him. He’s not coming back before he’s 100 percent ready.’’

Stamkos was charging back to help on defense when he got tangled with a Boston defenseman, lost his footing and slid into the net, striking his shin against the goal post.

“I slammed into the post pretty hard and I knew something was wrong,” he said, “but I didn’t really know until I tried to stand up and skate back to the bench that I could actually feel the bone move.”

Several times in the past two weeks, Stamkos watched footage of the play.

“Seeing that stuff doesn’t bug me,” he said. “I wanted to see exactly what happened. ...So, to be able to watch it and see the leg sort of snap back a little bit, it made it pretty clear on why it happened.’’

Since the surgery , Stamkos has moved past the “why” and is focused on the “when” — as in when he will be healed and ready to get back on the ice.

“Before I went (for surgery) I was still trying to pinch myself and hope that it was a dream,” he said. “But when reality sets in, this is the card and hand that you have been dealt. You have to deal with it now. You have to be strong and work hard.’’

One day after surgery, doctors told him he needed to take get out of bed and take a few steps on the injured leg, a seemingly simple act he admits he was not comfortable trying at first.

“I had the boot on and the crutches and even those couple of steps, those were the toughest ones,’’ he said. “I think you get up and you’re a little dizzy or little woozy; you’ve been in the bed for a little bit and you’re on pain medication. At that point it’s like, ‘Man, I just want to climb back in the bed and there’s no way I’ll be walking anytime soon.’ But it’s gradual steps and, mentally, I think that was the toughest part.’’

Now Stamkos is up and about on a regular basis, coming to the rink to work with team trainers while taking minor steps on the road to recovery.

And as he reflects on the events of the past couple of weeks, he has no issue with the contact from Boston defenseman Dougie Hamilton that led to his falling into the post and is appreciative of all the support he’s received from friends and family.

That included a visit from Boston head coach Claude Julien at the hospital, which Stamkos called “pretty classy,’’ and a text message from Bruins captain Zdeno Chara on behalf of the Boston players.

 

Seeing Stamkos around the Lightning locker room the past couple of days cheered up his teammates, who returned home early Saturday morning from an 0-3-1 road trip to face the New York Rangers Monday night.

“It brought a lot of smiles to everybody’s face to see him,’’ Lightning captain Marty St. Louis said. “He is young, but he’s been here for a long time and he hasn’t missed any games, so it’s tough. Obviously, we miss him on the ice. But you miss Stammer the human being, being around the guys.’’

Given the early progress in his recovery, Stamkos could be around sooner than expected.

“He’s just an inspiration for all of us, everybody is pulling for him,’’ Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s just remarkable about medical science these days because when you see the injury happen and you are privy to the X-ray and you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, this can’t be good,’ and then to see what he is doing now, it’s amazing. I have no idea about a timetable or when he’s coming back, but it’s pretty cool to see him mobile without aids. He’s a remarkable kid.’’

eerlendsson@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7835

Twitter: @erlendssonTBO

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