When Steven Stamkos played in his hometown for the first time with the Tampa Bay Lightning, his teammates allowed the 18-year-old rookie to lead the team on the ice. They stayed in the tunnel and watched as Stamkos took a lap before realizing nobody came behind him.
Don’t expect Cory Conacher to fall for the same practical joke when he takes to the Air Canada Centre ice for the first time Wednesday night.
“I told him not to be the first one on the ice for warmups; I think I learned that one the hard way,’’ Stamkos said when asked if he gave Conacher any advice for playing in front of so many family and friends.
“It’s going to be a lot of nervous energy, excitement. But I’m sure he’ll be fine. He’s played a handful of games already in a lot of great cities. He’ll have a lot of friends and family here, so it’s just about getting the first shift out of the way and then have some fun with it. It’s a great opportunity. You don’t know how many you are going to get, so take advantage of it.’’
Conacher, who grew up in nearby Burlington, Ontario, was certainly a popular player following Wednesday’s morning skate. He conducted several interviews with the local media, who wanted to tell the story of the undrafted, under-sized rookie.
Conacher will also be popular after the game. His family rented a suite for the night to watch him play his first game in Toronto, plus numerous others found tickets to see Conacher play.
“I had some time to spend with my family (Tuesday),” Conacher said. “We went out for dinner. And it’s so nice to be back in the Toronto area. I’m sure tonight is going to be a little nerve-wracking to start out the game, but I think after those first couple of shifts I should be all right. I know there will be about 100 people here to see me.’’
D Victor Hedman was on the ice Wednesday morning after missing the final period-plus on Monday with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Hedman could have returned to Monday’s game, so it was not a surprise that he was feeling fine and ready to play.
“I felt good during the skate, but right now I expect to play,” he said. “I’m excited about that and it’s not a big issue.”
Hedman took a hit from Philadelphia’s Zac Rinaldo during the second period on Monday. Hedman was visibly upset as he went back to the bench, slamming his stick into the boards.
“A few guys saw my reaction, probably, and I haven’t seen any replays but … we’ll just leave it at that a look forward,’’ he said. “Nothing huge happened.’’
LW Ryan Malone was also injured on a hit by Rinaldo during Monday’s game and is out indefinitely with a left shoulder injury and will be placed on injured reserve.
But general manager Steve Yzerman said there are no plans for a call-up, likely because LW Benoit Pouliot is close to returning after missing the past eight games with a right shoulder injury.
Pouliot has skated with the team since late last week while wearing a red non-contact jersey. Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said Pouliot “is on the verge’’ of returning. He could be back for one or both of the team’s back-to-back games this weekend in Ottawa and Winnipeg.
“Today was my best day, doing almost everything on the ice,’’ Pouliot said. “There is still some stuff that is, not risky, but I’m just not comfortable doing right now and I need to wait for it to come back. But I feel good.’’
LW Pierre-Cedric Labrie will be in the lineup with Malone out. …G Mathieu Garon will start. …The NHL’s general managers meetings are taking place next door to the Air Canada Centre in the league’s Toronto offices, which brought more reporters than usual to the morning skate.