What makes team chemistry gel? Is it solid professionalism from all of the players? Is it belief in people’s character as hard workers? Is it time spent in the trenches of playoffs together? Is it friendship?
The past three seasons of Tampa Bay Lightning hockey were good enough to keep a special team together, one that rose to the occasion whenever Steven Stamkos was injured, and helped him make three playoff runs. Whenever he was asked about the team’s play, he’d use words that described the team’s work ethic, saying that grim determination and hard work were “good characteristics” to have.
Stamkos has always been frank about the team’s efforts, never praising when it was not warranted, but giving praise when it was due. In the dark days of 2015 when the goaltenders kept the team in contention, Stamkos praised Bishop’s work after a victory by saying, ''He's been our rock, nice to get him rewarded with a win.''
"We're just sticking up for each other. We've done that all year. That's been a characteristic of this team," Stamkos said of the team in 2015, after their first playoff victory against the Red Wings.
In the 2016 playoff run, most of which Stamkos had to sit out due to a blood clot operation, he said of the team:
They’re the ones who came in here and battled, played through injuries and worked their tail off to get to a Game 7. It was special for me to get back on the ice with these guys, this group, such a tight group. A team that has gone through a lot this year, different types of adversity, and we’ve come through with flying colors.
And what did these players think of Stamkos? They unfailingly spoke of Stamkos’s leadership ability, and how he leads by example.
He’s a great captain. Obviously on the ice he’s an example for everybody. He works hard both ways. At the same time, off the ice, he’s good in the room, I feel like he steps up and talks when he needs to, he doesn’t when there’s nothing that needs to be said. He’s been really mature even though he doesn’t have that much experience being captain yet. And lot of the same things I saw in [Nick] Lidstrom and [Henrik] Zetterberg.
He takes being a captain very seriously, and he wants to win. He showed it in Game 7 against the Penguins, coming back and playing. He showed what a captain, a leader, a guy of high character should do. If he's leading the way, you better fall in line because that's the way things are going to go. It's a great strength of our team, and it goes to show you how strong of a character guy he is, and he makes everybody else better for it.
He can really do it all; his speed is second to none. He's tough, he's strong; he can play a physical game. He's a heck of a leader. The scary thing is he's still a young kid. You put that all together, with his age and skill set he has, you won't find anyone much better.
And when these players were traded away from the organization, Stamkos stepped up to praise their good characteristics again (Filppula had not yet been traded), saying:
And who knows? Maybe the team will be lucky enough to lure Boyle back in the off season.