TAMPA — From dreams dashed to redemption reached, the 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday played out like a two-act story featuring a pair of Lightning all-stars in the starring roles.
Steven Stamkos figured to be on the road to recovery and lacing up his skates for a return to the lineup against Toronto on Thursday. Instead, Stamkos stood behind microphones addressing his disappointment at not be able to participate for Canada at the Olympics.
With Stamkos not medically cleared to play 12 weeks after breaking his right leg, teammate and Tampa Bay captain Marty St. Louis was named as Stamkos' replacement on Team Canada after being left off the original roster announced Jan. 7.
“I feel terrible for Stammer that he's in that situation, and Canada is going to miss him,'' said St. Louis, a Quebec native who will participate in his second Olympics. “I think if you asked Stammer if anyone could replace him, he'd want me. So, I'm going to try and go there and do the best I can. It's a great opportunity for me. I've worked hard for this.''
St. Louis, 38, was informed Wednesday night when Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, also the executive director of Team Canada, called to extend an invitation for St. Louis to represent Canada. The hockey tournament in Sochi, Russia, begins next week, the Canada's first game scheduled for Thursday against Norway.
St. Louis also played in the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, where Canada finished out of the medals. St. Louis most recent international competition was in 2009, when he had 15 points in nine games at the IIHF World Championship.
Since being left off Canada's initial 2014 roster, St. Louis has he has eight goals and 16 points in 14 games, including a career-best four-goal game against San Jose on Jan. 18. In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, St. Louis became the oldest player to lead the NHL in scoring with 60 points.
“After naming a team, we continued to watch players,'' Yzerman said. “We had a list of (players) who didn't get named to the original roster and we continued to watch them. Marty's the first person we contacted, so obviously he's the first person on the list.
“Clearly, Marty has played extremely well, and we're looking for a right winger. He was the right fit and the right player for the spot.''
For Stamkos, the events of the previous two days were sobering.
Early in the week, Stamkos appeared on track for a return to the Lightning lineup no later than this weekend while awaiting medical clearance. When he met with team medical personnel on Wednesday to review the results of a three-dimensional CT scan, he was not expecting disappointing news.
“It was a little shocking, to be honest,'' said Stamkos, who had surgery Nov. 12 to insert a titanium rod in the broken bone in his lower right leg. “Going into the meeting I was probably expecting to play (Thursday) based on how I was feeling and how the previous X-rays had went.
“But at the same time, when you're dealing with bones you can never be 100 percent until you see it. And we did the CT scan. So, if anything maybe I wish we would've done that a little bit sooner so I didn't have my hopes as high as I did heading into the meeting.''
Though Stamkos did not receive the news he expected, it won't slow down his recovery process. He now has an eye on returning to the Lightning lineup when Tampa Bay resumes play after the Olympics, on Feb. 27 in Nashville.
“We want to keep pushing, keep loosening up those muscles and make sure you're still putting pressure on the bone so it's going to continue to heal,'' Stamkos said. “Not going to the Olympics is tough, but now having a break, that is going to help me physically get better and stronger and get ready for a big playoff push for our organization.
“This is a big year. We've had a tremendous year up to date and I can't wait to jump back in and help this team finish strong.''
Stamkos had 14 goals in 17 games before the injury. Without him, the Lightning have stayed near the top of the standings in the Atlantic division thanks to increased scoring from St. Louis, center Valtteri Filppula and defenseman Victor Hedman, plus the emergence of several talented rookies.
With Stamkos unable to join Team Canada, he was happy Yzerman chose St. Louis.
“I'm very excited for Marty,'' Stamkos said. “If there was going to be anyone that deserves a spot on that team, I think everyone in our locker room can attest to that, that he probably deserved to be on that team since Day One. ...I don't see this as Marty replacing me. I see this as Marty deserving a spot on this team and going over and hopefully bringing back a gold medal.''