TORONTO – Just because it’s a 29°C August afternoon in downtown Toronto and there’s not a pair of ice skates in sight doesn’t mean it’s a bad time for NHL leading scorer Steven Stamkos to shoot a puck in the net.
Or 71 of them in a single minute.
That’s how many orange rubber discs the Tampa Bay Lightning centre snapped into an open net for a fan-friendly charity event thrown by timepiece sponsor Tissot on Thursday.
Stamkos, the 2011-12 Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner with 60 goals, was given 60 seconds to score; Toronto Youth Development, a local charity seeking to empower at-risk inner-city youngsters, was given $5,000 by Tissot, who partnered with the 22-year-old Hart nominee for the event.
“You just gotta remember that you were a kid once and you looked up to NHL players as heroes,” Stamkos, who was born in Markham, Ont., says. “I’ve been very fortunate to do what I do for a living. So to be able to give back to the kids in the community who don’t necessarily have the chances and opportunities I did is a lot of fun.”
Before the exhibition, Stamkos had requested that a volunteer from the lunchtime crowd gathered outside the RBC Plaza strap on the pads and hop between the pipes to make things easier for him: “I think I only scored two empty-netters this season, so this might be tough,” he quipped.
Fans then lined up as the all-star cued up their pucks and tried to beat Stamkos’s mark of 71 goals in effort to win a $1,095 watch and autographed goodies. Alas, after two hours of 60-second attempts, the closest a commoner came was 68.
While the typical NHL summer consists of runs and weight rooms and hailing golf-cart girls, it’s also time to give back — a crucial lesson Stamkos says he gleaned from another Florida hockey icon.
“I have a pretty good role model in Tampa Bay in Vinny Lecavalier. When I went down there, you see how much he means to that community. So for me, I try to get involved as much as I can. I’m involved here (in Ontario) and down there. Me and Tissot partnered up for the Toronto Youth Development, and I thought that was a great concept. Nice little turnout today. I think everyone’s having a blast. And knowing it’s for a good cause makes it that much more fun.”
With four stellar NHL seasons under his belt, two of them 50-goalers, it’s easy to forget that Stamkos is only 22. When he entered the NHL as an 18-year-old first-overall pick, Stamkos says he came to a veteran Lightning club just four years removed from a Stanley Cup with plenty of on-ice mentors. Captain Lecavalier is the one, though, when it comes to setting an off-ice example.
“He’s a great role model for all players in the NHL,” Stamkos says. “When it comes to community work, he’s the bar-setter in Tampa. What he’s done with the hospital and other charitable organizations in Tampa, it rubs off on the other players.”