BOSTON -- The entire Bruins organization was happy to hear Steven Stamkos was walking without a boot or crutches while addressing the media for the first time on Monday. That meant his recovery from a broken right tibia was going well after a gruesome, freak crash into the net in a Nov. 11 game at TD Garden that shattered his shin bone.
Stamkos is still looking at a long recovery process that should have him back in action sometime around the Winter Olympics in February.
He told reporters he remembers the incident vividly.
“I don’t know if that was more pain or frustration,” said Stamkos, of pounding the Garden ice in the moments after he twice failed to get up and skate to the Lightning bench. “I didn't think I'd be walking on my own without a boot or crutch less than two weeks after surgery, but it's pretty amazing, the work that can be done. I already started rehabbing and things are pretty good."
Stamkos also had more than a few kind things to say about the Bruins, and their displays of class in the days following the incident. First, the Tampa Bay Lightning superstar absolved Dougie Hamilton of any wrongdoing, and simply said it was a “hockey play” that went wrong when the two players collided and Stamkos flew into the post.
Then Stamkos detailed a text message from Bruins captain Zdeno Chara on behalf of the entire Bruins team, and a hospital visit from Bruins head coach Claude Julien. Both were designed to keep Stamkos’ spirits up during a tough time, and to also let him know that the NHL is a hockey brotherhood that goes far beyond the rivalries and competition.
“I obviously felt very bad for him, and I think everybody felt the same way. It was a very unfortunate injury. I wished him a fast recovery after I found out he was having his surgery,” Chara said. “You feel for the guy. In a situation like that, we are all humans -- and we’re not competing on the ice at that point.
“I know he’s a great guy, and he cares about a lot of things other than the game of hockey. So I felt like I wanted to send him a message to cheer him up, and wish him a fast recovery. It’s something away from the game that can go a long way.”
It’s a credit to the captain of the “Big Bad Bruins” that he reached out to one of his divisional rivals, and revealed the kind-hearted 6-foot-9 giant hiding beneath the Spoked B jersey and on-ice sneer.
Julien paid a visit with Stamkos following the incident versus the Bruins after developing a relationship with the 23-year-old during the Team Canada Orientation camp this summer.
“I got to know Steve the person. When you look at what he is in the league and what he’s accomplished, to have that happen to him, I thought it was just important to go by and see how he was doing. It was as simple as that,” said Julien. “He’s one of those players that people from all the different cities come up to watch and play and he’s one of the reasons we fill buildings.
“You hate to see that, from anybody’s point of view; to see a guy like that get injured that way. So I stopped by, and he certainly feels like he wants that opportunity to represent his country. He’s going to do everything he can and I just went there and kind of showed my support.”
Clearly the Lightning miss their scoring sensation -- they're in the middle of a four-game losing streak -- and the world of the NHL misses the nightly highlight reel provided by Stamkos’ electric offense.
But how he and those around him reacted to his injury shows exactly what kind of character is possessed by the players, coaches and management in the NHL community.