Puck Daddy - NHL

Being Steven Stamkos(notes) isn't being a player who relies on a natural blessing of talent, despite leading the NHL in goals (11) and points (22) entering Tuesday night's action.

Being Steven Stamkos is outworking others from his childhood through early adulthood; a work ethic and discipline the 20-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning star that's especially on display each summer.

Like during the 30-yard sprints Stamkos and Michael Del Zotto(notes) of the New York Rangers would make with a 150-pound sled loaded with weights, tethered to them with a belt. "That was pretty grueling on your knees, on your back. You were gasping for air," said Stamkos, who trained with former NHL great Gary Roberts(notes).

This mini-doc on Stamkos, provided by Nike Canada, illustrates that level of commitment to training:

We spoke with Stamkos last week about training with "Scary Gary" Roberts; forsaking McDonald's; his path from rookie disappointment to MVP candidate; that reversal of fortunes for the Lightning; the origins of his nasty one-timer shot; his next NHL contract; his next NHL fight, and whether stars should fight; as well as the usual questions about cars and booze. But first, the pressure of a name ...

Q. What's your nickname?

STAMKOS: Usually 'Stammer.'

Don't you feel at this point in your career, as a Richard Trophy winner and with the season you're having, you should have something more iconic? We've got The Kid. Alex The Great. There are so many other memorable nicknames for great players. What about this: "White Lightning." Does that work?

[Laughs] I don't think so. No. I'm more like someone who will go under the radar, not really need that kind of thing. (Ed. Note: At this point we should mention that readers have suggested the "Eastbound and Down" reference "La Flama Blanca" a.k.a. "The White Flame" for Stamkos. But that just makes us think of Jay Bouwmeester(notes).)

Did you imagine that a game between you and Drew Doughty(notes) on Nov. 4 would be between the two best teams in the NHL at the time?

No [chuckles]. Obviously for them, they've had a pretty good year last year too.

So what's the difference in Tampa Bay? The change in coaching? A lot of us on the outside look at the Lightning, see Steve Yzerman as the GM and assume it all trickles down.

It's been a fresh start for everyone. It starts with the new ownership group with Jeff Vinik hiring Steve Yzerman, and him hiring a coach like Guy Boucher. It's given instant credibility and respect to our organization because of those guys who have been brought in. From that standpoint, it's changed a lot, both on and off the ice.

On the ice, the coaching staff has a new system they put in place. Everyone's buying in. Everyone's feeling that change in a good way, realizing we can be one of the top teams in the League if we work hard.

We were feelin' for you in your rookie year. What was the strangest thing you experienced under the old ownership?

[Laughs] It was a tough. Sixteen games into my career, we had a coaching change. It was something I never experienced before, and something I had to go through a lot earlier in my career than I expected. I know how to go through with it. I learned how to deal with it if it ever happens again in my career.

It was tough. There was a lot of turmoil surrounding the team when I came in. Ownership changes. Coaching changes. But now, we're finally on the right page. We have personnel in place that's respected around the League and that wanted to be here. That's all you can ask for.

We have to ask: Do you have any "Seen Stamkos?" stickers in your house?

I might have one laying around my parent's place as a souvenir. But not many though.

In hindsight, was that campaign a mistake? Did it put too much pressure on you as a rookie?

I didn't look at it that way. The team was trying to build some hype. They struggled the last couple of years attendance wise, and whatever you can do isn't going to hurt. I'm not someone that gets caught up in all that.

Do you have any sympathy or advice for what Taylor Hall's(notes) going through now with the Edmonton Oilers as a "No. 1 Number One"?

In today's game, people put way too much pressure on someone that age coming into the game. Especially with the amount of skill that he possesses. For me, I can kinda relate. I didn't start my career off as fast as I'd like. But all you can ask for at that age is a chance to prove what you can do, and that's what he's getting in Edmonton.

There's probably a little bit more pressure on him going to a Canadian city than me going down to Tampa.

He's got a couple of goals, a couple of points now. He's starting to get that confidence, and that's huge. Once you get that opportunity, you gain confidence; once you have that confidence, that's when you start making plays and you realize you should be there.

Your "puck tricks" video with TSN when you were with Sarnia has over 220,000 views on YouTube.

How nervous were you to film that?

I was pretty nervous. When they told me what they were going to use it for -- something to show fans what the players were going to do in the NHL [All-Star Game] skills competition -- it was pretty nerve-wracking. It wasn't a one-take wonder.

Having met you for the first time on your draft day, there's no question that your body's changed a bit since your rookie season. How much muscle have you packed on, and what's the physical transformation been like for you?

A lot of it has to do with the training that goes into it, but a lot of it has to do with simply maturing. I came into the League at 18 years old. I didn't have a lot of experience in training the right way. I probably came into the League at 175 pounds; now I'm 190. Working with Gary Roberts the last two summers, it's all about training the right way and training for my needs.

And eating healthy. That's half the battle. That's where Gary separates himself from a lot of trainers. You might work as hard as you can, but you're not going to see the results unless you're eating properly. He had meals catered for us after every workout that we had. It's not the best tasting food out there.

What were the specifics on the food? We all see Gary Roberts and assume he just takes bites out of animals as they're standing there.

[Laughs] It's all organic food. Lots of lean meat. Chicken, tuna. You're used to slapping on that mayo or that ranch dressing on a salad, and there was none of that. Staying away from junk food and the pops. It's something that, for me, is harder than doing the actual workouts. It's so easy to get off-track. Like when you're out with your buddies and they're stopping at McDonald's. You can't have a Big Mac with them.

Do you have a favorite Gary Roberts-as-Chuck Norris joke?

I don't know if I have one. But we always bug him that he gets a look on his face and we call him "Scary Gary." If you do something wrong in the workout, you see that face. You also see it in fight clips on the Internet.

Your offensive game seems like it's been taken to a new level this season. We wanted to ask about your shot, and the wicked one-timers you uncork. Was there anyone who influenced you in developing that shot?

Joe Sakic(notes) was one of my favorite players growing up, and had one of the best shots. Not a one-timer, but one of the best snap-shots in the game. My dad would always get me to shoot 300-400 pucks every day. He'd take me to shooting school, learning how to shoot the puck around 9 or 10 years old against an instructor.

I was always a pretty good skater, but couldn't really shoot the puck. So I went on that synthetic ice with the lower part of my gear and shot 400-500 pucks.

It was about learning the proper technique. A lot of people don't understand that it's like a golf shot. It's like a pitcher's mechanics. There's a technique, and I still work on it today.

There were reports in the St. Pete Times that your agent and the Lightning were going to start discussing your next contract. Was five years, which is what was reported, right around where you want to be in your next deal? Shorter term? Longer?

That's actually the first I've heard of it. (Note: Interview was conducted on Friday.) It's something we really haven't discussed it. I know it'll take care of itself. When you have a guy like Steve Yzerman in the organization, you know it'll be handled first class.

With all the stats you've been able to put up, are you ticked off you haven't gotten a video game cover yet?

[Laughs] No, no. The guys who have been on them deserve it. It's not something I worry about. It was just cool, the year I got into the League, to see myself in that game, because I grew up playing it.

It's been almost two years since your last NHL fight.

When can we expect your next fight, and are you worried that Nikolai Zherdev might seek retribution now that he's back from the KHL?

[Laughs] Well, I already played against Philly, and he didn't ask for a rematch.

You never know what's going to happen in a game.

On that note, there's been a lot written about stars fighting lately, with Sidney Crosby(notes) dropping the gloves recently. What are your thoughts on star players getting into fights?

I don't think it's something that needs to happen. In the heat of the moment, when you're sticking up for yourself or your teammate, obviously stuff like that happens. You don't want that to happen every night or every other night. You want them on the ice. You don't want them risking an injury. But at certain points, it needs to be done, and I don't mind it.

What do you do on the road to kick back?

A lot of us are getting into games on the iPad. There's a home run battle going on right now, on this game where you try to hit as many home runs as you can.

What are you driving these days?

Mercedes 2009. Black. It gets pretty hot, but ...

Do you have an adult beverage of choice, sir?

When I do have it, I have to be in Canada because I'm not legal in the States. But I'm a sucker for a nice Caesar when I'm back home.

What's the best piece of hockey advice you ever received?

My dad's always someone I always looked up to. When I was a young kid, I'd have a couple of goals in a game and I'd come back thinking I played pretty good. And my dad would say I didn't play well that day. "Just because you have a couple goals doesn't mean you played really well." It was all about your work ethic. It really opened my eyes at a young age: You don't have to score a bunch of goals to have a good game.

Finally, as a Nike athlete, can you just call up LeBron and be like ‘What's up?' whenever you want?

I'm not quite that far up the totem pole yet. I think there's a difference between Nike Canada and Nike U.S. We're going to have to break down that barrier.

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