Steven Stamkos and John Tavares go way back and by way back we mean way, way back. It's that time together in a youth summer league team Stamkos recalled to reporters Wednesday. (We're not sure if the Toronto Blues photo we linked is the team Stamkos is talking about. But it does have his dad pictured as the coach, top right).
Newsday reported Wednesday that the summer league team went 49-0-1, and the only blemish on what otherwise would've been a perfect record occurred because Tavares missed in the shootout. "My dad was the coach and he picked Johnny," Stamkos said.
Stamkos and Tavares' names have been linked closely since those early days. Each were pretty great players in his own right growing up, though Tavares was more "exceptional." Each even had a love for another sport that he had to give up in order to pursue hockey. Each went first overall in the OHL Draft: Tavares in 2005, a year before Stamkos, because of that "exceptional player" status. They won the gold medal together at the 2008 World Juniors; later that year Stamkos was drafted No. 1 by a franchise that badly needed a star, Tavares followed in same "save the franchise" situation a year later; throw in a few All-Star appearances, the World Championships, a possible Olympic line that never was, the same position, even the same freaking number.
Stamkos gives credit to Tavares for his #91.
Stamkos says Tavares a reason he wears 91. He and Tavares wore 19, but on summer team as kid Stamkos' dad gave Tavares 19. "No favorites."— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) April 28, 2016
There are narratives that emerge every round of the NHL Playoffs with every new opponent, and it's a shame that, while still present in some way, we'll miss out on the Stamkos-Tavares story as the two teams are facing each other in the playoffs for the first time since each were drafted by their respective teams.
With Stamkos out, it's been Victor Hedman whose name has come up most often alongside Tavares. Hedman, of course, was drafted second behind Tavares in 2009 and thus the two spent a lot of time together during that process. (Although if then-GM Brian Lawton had it his way, he would've traded up to draft Tavares that year. Try to let that sink in... )
In Wednesday's Game 1, Hedman wasn't matched up against Tavares in the first two periods as often as he was in the third. If the Lightning are looking to slow down Tavares — he leads the postseason in goals (6) and points (11) — they're going to have to put Hedman out there every time against Tavares.
Can't get enough of Stamkos and Tavares? Watch a 2010 video where they talk about each other.