Imagine being the number one draft pick and having an entire marketing campaign built around you before you ever play a shift in the NHL. Then imagine not scoring a goal for your first 8 games as the team piles up loss after loss. Finally, on a dark Thursday night in Buffalo, in front of about 40 friends and family, you tip a puck past Ryan Miller to give your team the lead.
It’s your first NHL goal! Everyone hugs, you skate to the bench, and everyone congratulates you. Then as you wait to hear your name called over the P.A. system you hear.
“The Lightning power play goal scored by…..number four, Vincent Lecavalier”
Welcome to the NHL, Steven Stamkos.
Yes, after all of the drama and struggle and expectations that Stamkos experienced over his first three weeks in the NHL, he didn’t even get the reward of hearing his first NHL goal announced in the arena. Luckily for the 18-year-old, Lecavalier set the record straight, as Stamkos told the press after the game:
“I knew it hit my stick from the beginning, and Vinny knew that, too. I had a little bit of butterflies when they announced Vinny was the goal-scorer. But he did a great thing and went over to the ref and told them I tipped it, that they should review it and correct it….It was a tremendous thrill for me.” ^
It’s easy to tell yourself you can do something, but until you actually achieve it, there is always a little doubt in your mind. That includes scoring goals in the NHL. Even though he had been successful everywhere he had played, Stamkos needed to actually put the puck in the net to reaffirm his talent, “The confidence is there now, I know I can score at this level,” he told the Tampa Tribune, “To get that second one, I think, really solidified that I can be an impact player at this level.”
Just days before, Stamkos survived his first trip to Toronto and interaction with the Toronto media. As is their nature, there were some quiet rumblings among the Canadian press that perhaps Stamkos wasn’t all he had been hyped to be. Nothing as outright as labeling him a bust, but there were a few digs such as Damien Cox’s, “It’s premature and just wrong to label Stamkos a failure” ^^
Wait, it’s wrong to label a rookie playing less than 10 minutes a night on a dysfunctional team a “failure”? Thank you for stating the obvious, Damien. Good thing Austin Matthews scored four goals in his debut or they would have run him out of town by now. But Stamkos managed to emerge from the media throng unscathed and even picked up an assist against Toronto to erase the glaring “0” in the points column under his name.
Moving on to Buffalo with the pressure slightly eased, he found himself on the power play early in the game. Vinny launched the shot that Stamkos deflected, and despite what the rink announcer and Rick Pekham had to say, the Markham native had his first goal.
It was a rather dubious way to score a first goal, having the puck tick off of your stick and change direction to beat a goaltender. Not to say there isn’t a skill involved to doing that on a regular basis, but the play is still generated by another player. In this case, Lecavalier launching a blistering one-timer off the feed from Marty St. Louis. Still, it’s probably not how Stamkos imagined scoring his first goal.
His second goal, that was probably more like he’d envisioned scoring in the NHL. Stamkos, who was unscreened, beat a veteran goaltender on the short side with a wrist shot. This is a shot a veteran goaltender, especially one as good as Ryan Miller, stops 99% of the time. The goal was a direct result of Stamkos’s ability, HE beat the goaltender. It did a lot for his confidence, and it was also a glimpse of how good his wrist shot was.
Granted, Stamkos’s confidence probably took another hit when he wouldn’t score again for another 14 games, but on that night in Buffalo, Steven Stamkos announced to the NHL and to himself that he would become one of the most prolific scorers in the league.
^Ingraham, Zachary. "Stamkos Someone to 'Keep an Eye on'; Bolts Rookie Earns Raves from Teammates, Respect from Opponents." The Vancouver SunNov 01 2008. ProQuest. Web. 12 Jan. 2017 .
^^ Cox, Damien. "Rookie Requires Patience, Not Pressure to Produce." Toronto StarOct 28 2008. ProQuest. Web. 12 Jan. 2017 .