Representing your country at an international tournament is always special, but for Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, being a part of Team Canada‘s World Cup team means a little more.
Missing out on winning an Olympic gold medal has that sort of effect on a player.
Stamkos was just 23 years old when Canada named their roster for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. When Hockey Canada announced the final roster for the Olympics on January 7, 2014, it did so less than two months after Stamkos suffered a broken right tibia in a game against the Boston Bruins on November 11, 2013.
With the Winter Olympics set to begin play in February 2014, the timing and severity of Stamkos’ injury immediately raised questions about his ability to be ready in time to compete for his country. Hockey Canada, however, was willing to look past those concerns, choosing instead to add Stamkos to its 25-man roster with the hope that he would recover in time.
Hockey Canada Took a Chance on Stamkos
For those who had watched Stamkos leading up to his injury, you could not blame Team Canada Executive Director Steve Yzerman and the rest of the team’s decision-makers for keeping their fingers crossed.
After all, the first overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft had grown into a franchise center with the Lightning in just over four seasons with the team and become one of the game’s most well-known snipers. At age 23, he had already won two Rocket Richard trophies after sharing the league-lead in goals with 51 in 2010 and pacing the league with 60 in 2012.
Stamkos also had big game experience after being a part of Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the 2008 World Junior Championships and a Lightning team that took the Bruins to seven games in the 2011 Eastern Conference Final.
Despite Best Efforts, Stamkos Was Not Ready
Stamkos underwent surgery on his right leg just two days after the injury and began a rehabilitation schedule shortly thereafter. Despite the best efforts of his doctors and a rigorous rehabilitation regimen, Stamkos learned that his right leg was not healed in time to play at the Olympics. Hockey Canada released a statement confirming Canadians’ fears leading up to the Olympics.
“Today is obviously very disappointing for me,” Stamkos said in the statement. “I honestly believe that we did everything possible in order to have my leg ready in time for the Olympics, but I realize you can’t force healing. I know, in the best interest of my long-term health, I cannot represent Canada in Sochi, as much as I would like to.”
Stamkos’ Lightning teammate, Martin St. Louis, was named as his replacement and would go on to win gold with Canada – the country’s second-straight gold medal after defeating Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Another Health Scare for Stamkos
After being named to Team Canada’s roster for this year’s World Cup, doctors diagnosed him with a blood clot near his right collarbone and performed surgery to remove it on April 4, 2016. Stamkos missed all but one game for the Lightning during the team’s march to the 2016 Eastern Conference Final, playing under 12 minutes in a decisive Game 7. Entering the World Cup, reports indicate he is healthy and ready to play.
For Stamkos, missing the 2014 Winter Olympics makes him all the more driven as he prepares to represent Canada during the World Cup.
World Cup Takes on New Meaning for Stamkos
More recently, Stamkos spoke about his rehabilitation schedule leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics and how missing out on winning gold in Sochi makes the World Cup more special.
According to NHL.com’s Chris Stevenson, Stamkos said, “After rehabbing four-five hours a day, I kind of just wanted to get away. I caught the gold medal game. It was a party that you wish you were there with the guys. I think I was in the Cayman Islands. A lot of Canadians down there too, so the game was on everywhere. It was tough not being able to play on that team with all the hard work I put into it, so that’s why I think this tournament and playing on this team is a little more special.”
Team Canada, winners of the tournament in 2004, opens the defense of its title on September 17 in a preliminary game against Team Czech Republic.
As Stamkos puts on Canada’s red sweater to begin play at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, remembering the 2014 Winter Olympics may be the sort of motivation that takes his game to the next level.