Tampa Bay Lightning
Stamkos On The Move
Steven Stamkos did not want to be the talk of the Ontario Hockey League skills competition for the wrong reason after wiping out into the end boards during the fastest skater contest. Stamkos turned out to be the hit of the February event, not because of his embarrassing moment, but for pulling out of his bag of tricks a breakaway move called a "Dirty Dangle" that brought fans to their feet. The move also made the 18-year-old center an Internet video sensation and turned his name into a marketing campaign for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are certain to pick him No. 1 overall in the NHL entry draft June 20 in Ottawa. "I didn't want to be the guy remembered for falling, so I thought I'd try it out," said Stamkos, who started working on the move the week before All-Star weekend. "I hadn't perfected it, so I was a little skeptical that it was going to work."Stamkos, however, made it work to perfection, skating in on net, dropping the puck behind his skates, turning his hands over to put the stick's blade behind him and lifting the puck top shelf to score. "I got down there and, thankfully for me, it worked," Stamkos said. "And after, when I was signing some autographs, all the fans were talking about was that goal. It seemed like they had forgotten about me falling down." Video of the goal has received more than 146,000 hits on YouTube. It also inspired the Lightning, who aren't exactly keeping secret their intentions to draft Stamkos, to use the video as the centerpiece of a season-ticket advertising campaign that asks: "Seen Stamkos?" Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier has seen the video and liked what he saw. "The first time I saw the move, the one behind his skates, I said that if I did that I'd probably trip myself, so I'm probably not going to try it," Lecavalier said. "But it's pretty amazing to even think about trying. When you're a kid, you always think of moves to do. But you can tell he's very creative from what he did." The Lightning's slick marketing campaign features billboards along Interstate 275 and bumper stickers plastered all over town directing fans to a Web site the team launched in late April, www.seenstamkos.com. The site has received hits from all 50 states and 54 countries, including 260 towns and cities in Canada. The Web site features two other videos of Stamkos, plus statements about the top-rated junior prospect from respected coaches Scotty Bowman and Pat Burns. Fans can order free white rubber bracelets featuring the trademark question: Seen Stamkos? About 1,260 bracelets have been mailed out. There also is a photo gallery inviting fans to submit their Seen Stamkos? photos, which was up to 53 entries this week. "At first I thought it was some fans that put it out there, but then I realized that it was the team that put it out there," Stamkos said. "I've definitely gotten some good feedback out of it from my friends and family, and I've got a couple of buddies who have been ordering the bracelets off the Web site, so it's pretty funny." It's easy to see why the Lightning want fans to get a look at Stamkos. He finished second in the OHL this season with 58 goals in 61 games, and had nine goals in a five-game playoff series victory against Windsor. During the 2005-06 season, he had 105 goals and 197 points with the Markham Waxers, prompting Sarnia to select him first overall in the OHL draft. "As the season went along, we thought there was a good chance that Steven might not be with us next season," Sarnia general manager Alan Millar said. "Now it's not a question ... we know he won't be back. I have all the confidence in saying he's ready to move on." Tampa Bay OHL scout Larry Bernard, who has seen Stamkos play live 23 times the past two seasons, said players of his caliber don't come around too often. "If you look at most players, there is always something you love and something you always question about certain players, and that's some of the best players, too," Bernard said. "With him, on most nights, it's tough to find that negative part of his game and his attitude. "His competitiveness and his skill are almost, I hate to say a complete package, but he's fairly close to a complete player." One who likely will be seen in a Lightning uniform when Tampa Bay opens the season in October.
Reporter Erik Erlendsson can be reached at (813) 259-7835 or [email protected]