Why Steven Stamkos is so motivated for Team Canada

Steven Stamkos is from just north of Toronto, site of the World Cup of Hockey. "I couldn't have asked for a better situation," he said, "and I couldn't have asked for a better start for our team." Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO -- Steven Stamkos has had the World Cup of Hockey on his mind for more than two years.

From the moment he was told his Olympics were finished before they even started and his heart was shattered by the news that his broken leg had not healed enough for him to make the trip to Sochi in February 2014, the Tampa Bay Lightning captain began soothing that pain with the dream of wearing the Maple Leaf in his hometown on this stage -- the red Maple Leaf, that is.

"This was something I was really looking forward to ever since, really, the Olympic dream was over, that next opportunity to wear that sweater again," Stamkos said Monday after practice. "When I was named to the team, it was something that was definitely circled on the calendar and worked hard for."

While Team Canada battled it out for two weeks in Sochi, Stamkos got away from it all in the Cayman Islands.

"It was pretty grueling what I was doing to try to get back to play in the Olympics, and to feel as if I was ready ... mentally and physically ... and then going to the doctor and not being able to [play], it was pretty crushing," he said. "I needed time and space away from everything, so I went on a little vacation."

Stamkos couldn't bring himself to watch the Olympic tournament until the final game, when his patriotic feelings took over.

"It was bittersweet knowing what went on and how that would have been a special memory for me," he said, "but as a Canadian, I was very proud, as friends, of all those guys."

One can make the argument that no player in the World Cup wants to shine more than Stamkos, who is playing in front of family members and wants to make up for the lost Sochi opportunity.

"It's been a great experience for me, this tournament here," said Stamkos, who is from Markham, just north of Toronto. "I get to go home and spend time with friends and family and then come back and be with the guys. I couldn't have asked for a better situation, and I couldn't have asked for a better start for our team."

I wonder, however, if he hasn't been pressing a bit in the three pretournament games and the tournament opener, a 6-0 win over the Czech Republic. Stamkos, one of the NHL's most talented goal scorers, has a burning desire to leave his imprint on this stage.

"I liked him his first two exhibition games. I didn't like him in Game 3. And I liked him last game. Three of four is pretty good," Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock said Monday in assessing Stamkos' play so far.

The work ethic? The desire? Babcock isn't questioning that.

"He's so energized because he loves the game so much," he said.

I asked Stamkos about the perils of putting too much pressure on himself because he wants so badly to have an impact.

"I think my mentality has always been, when you get to these tournaments, you get to represent your country, do whatever it takes to win, what we're all here for," he said. "I know it's a cliché, but guys are willing to do whatever it takes. That's a staple of Team Canada hockey."

After spending most of camp and the pretournament games on a line with Jonathan Toews and Logan Couture, Stamkos was put with John Tavares and Ryan Getzlaf just before the tournament. There were signs against the Czechs that the line could be something special. Stamkos was robbed of a goal by Michal Neuvirth on one of several chances his line had.

It almost feels like that line is about to explode, which might be bad news for Team USA on Tuesday.

"I mean, to try and keep a goal scorer like that off the sheet is not easy, especially when he has that many looks," Getzlaf said of Stamkos. "As long as we're getting those opportunities, that's the main thing."

The challenge is to develop chemistry quickly.

"I don't think I've ever played with Stammer," Getzlaf said. "But much like Pears [Anaheim Ducks teammate Corey Perry], his game kind of fits into the way I play. Anytime you can put a goal scorer on my wing, I'm happy. I do enjoy the passing game more than shooting, as most people know already.

"Stammer works hard. He gets in the corners and does the dirty work too. It's not like he's a perimeter guy. We just got to keep doing those little things, and those little plays will happen."