Haggerty: Nasty Stamkos injury a big loss for hockey world

Haggerty: Nasty Stamkos injury a big loss for hockey world
November 11, 2013, 9:15 pm
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BOSTON - The symmetry was disturbing, and more than a little eerie.

On the day that Gregory Campbell finally cracked the scoresheet for his first point of the season in Boston’s 17th game while assisting on Daniel Paille’s insurance goal in a 3-1 win for the Bruins, Steven Stamkos suffered a broken right tibia after smacking feet-first into a goal post that didn’t give way in the fateful second period.

Campbell’s slow start to this season is, of course, because he fractured his right fibula while blocking an Evgeni Malkin blast during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, and spent nearly the entire summer off his feet. The Bruins fourth-line center asked this hockey reporter whether he’d broken the tibia or fibula in obvious concern following Boston’s win, and clearly had all the empathy in the world for Stamkos’ painful path to recovery that Campbell knows all to well.

The sight of Stamkos trying to get up and skate off the ice before falling in a heap, and then covering his face in obvious pain while being stretchered off, is something that would turn anybody’s stomach in knots.

“Nobody wants to see anybody taken off the ice on a stretcher," said Campbell, who still has the screws in his leg from last summer’s surgery. "I don’t like to see that happen to anybody. I have a lot of respect for him, but whether it’s him or somebody else, injuries are tough to come back from. It’s definitely a long road, and I wish him the best. But it’s a part of the game that’s not a positive thing, and especially with one of the key faces of the game. [Stamkos] is somebody that’s so respected, and such a good player, he has a lot to offer to the league and to his team.

“I wish him the best. He’s becoming the face of the game now; one of the key faces of the NHL, and you know, it’s an Olympic year – there are a lot of things that are negative about it for his own personal game . . . it’s unfortunate. Unfortunately it’s the beginning of a long process when you get injured, and he’s an important player to his team and to the league. But he’s a strong guy. I know he works hard, and I’m sure he’ll be back stronger than ever.”

Campbell is still working diligently to get back all of the skating speed and mobility he had prior to the June injury some five months later, and it’s been a big reason Boston’s fourth line has slinked out to a slow start this season.

That gives you an idea what kind of challenge lied ahead for the Tampa Bay superstar on the road to recovery. Steve Stamkos was the NHL’s leading scorer at the time of the gnarly injury, but that will all go by the boards now with a 3-6 month minimum recovery timetable for the nasty injury.

That puts Stamkos’ participation in the Olympics for Team Canada in real doubt, and leaves real question marks as to whether he might be back this season for a Tampa Bay Lightning team surprisingly in first place five weeks into the hockey season. That’s assuming the Bolts are a playoff team without Stamkos, one of the two or three best players in the NHL on his very worst day.

That might not be the case, but their head coach wasn’t waving the white flag despite the suddenly grave situation.

“There’s no sugarcoating it, he’s a huge part of our team. You can make an argument here that if you were going to hand out the MVP right now, you’d be hard pressed not to give it to him. So in saying that, yes, is that a hole in our team? It is,” said Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper, who has done a nice job steering Tampa Bay into the Atlantic Division’s top spot. “But one thing I can say is [Lightning GM] Steve [Yzerman's] done an unreal job of building this organization from the bottom up. It’s not a coincidence our AHL team has been to two Calder Cup finals, and is sitting in first place right now. It’s that old cliché – somebody’s got to step up.

“Now we’ve just got to pick ourselves up here, and we’ll see what we’re made of. It’s a tough one for the game because you want to see guys that have ‘it’, and Steven Stamkos has ‘it.’ It’s tough to lose a guy like that, but we’ll see what we’re made of. You talk about a test, this is a test.”

One had to know it was a test Tampa Bay didn’t ask for given the ashen look on Yzerman’s face on the elevator ride down from the ninth floor following Monday’s game. The GM for Tampa Bay and Team Canada watched both of his rosters lose their best player in one collision with Dougie Hamilton that ended with Stamkos’ leg snapping unnaturally when the post never popped off its mooring.

“A player like [Stamkos] is what people pay to come and watch,” said coach Claude Julien. “This game is built on guys that have tremendous skills, and that are good leaders and everything else. It’s unfortunate that those kinds of injuries happen to those players.”

Unfortunately the entire NHL, the world of international hockey and hockey fans everywhere suffered a big loss for the rest of this season when a distraught Stamkos was wheeled off the ice on Monday afternoon.

The hockey season just got a little less interesting with the Tampa Bay superstar immobilized in the infirmary ward.