Zizing ‘Em Up: Stamkos’ shot used to be weakness

TORONTO — If there’s an image that symbolizes Steven StamkosNHL career as he approaches 500 goals, it would be that of the Tampa Bay Lightning captain unleashing his patented one-timer from the left face-off circle.

“Hard to believe that my shot was actually the weakness of my game when I was a kid,” the 32-year-old told NHL.com.

Say what?

“It’s true,” Chris Stamkos, Steven’s father, said. “He was a small kid. Skating was his forte, but shooting, nope.”

The veteran forward has come a long way since then.

On Dec. 1, Stamkos recorded his 1,000th NHL point, an assist in a 4-1 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers. Now the next milestone is goal No. 500; he needs three more to get there.

Among those watching Stamkos’ chase of the milestone intently is Mark Filippone, owner and lead instructor of Score Hockey School in the Toronto area. He worked with young Steven for endless hours to improve his shot of him, and now he gets to witness the fruits of all that labor.

“What’s great is when I watch him shoot now, the first thing that jumps out is his technique,” Filippone said. “His skates pointed at the net, his follow through finishing at the net, those are the things we helped him with.

“It’s great to see. He was 11 or 12 and not the biggest of kids. I’m not saying he’s scoring at this rate because of what we taught him but certainly watching him score like this strikes home.”

Stamkos is grateful for the instruction he received.

“Most of the goals or assists I got at that age came from my skating,” he said. “I was little and didn’t have much of a shot. Meanwhile I was teammates with PK (Subban) for a bit and he could take shots from center ice that would go over the net. Meanwhile I had trouble just raising the puck.

“My favorite player growing up was Joe Sakic, and my dad told me he would take thousands of shots in order to get better. I wanted to, too. It was my dad’s idea to go to (Score Hockey School) and work on mine I think I was about 11 and I’d shoot off plastic, synthetic ice.

‘The biggest thing I learned is that you don’t have to be a big guy to have a hard shot. It’s all about technique. If you have the right technique, it doesn’t matter how big you are. Just look at how far some of the smallest PGA golfers, at least in stature, can hit the ball.”

Stamkos, his wife Sandra, and 3-year-old son, Carter, are spending Christmas with their families north of Toronto, something they couldn’t do in the past couple of years partially due to provincial gathering restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. Carter, who grew up in Florida, has embraced the snow and has spent endless hours tobogganing.

“He loves it,” Stamkos said. “We play mini-sticks in the basement too.”

How’s Carter’s shot?

“He’s only 3 so we have plenty of time to work on it,” Stamkos said with a laugh.

We’ll say this much: when the time comes, Steven will have firsthand experience on how his son can improve on it.

MAURICE REDISCOVERS PASSION FOR HOCKEY

Twelve months ago, Paul Maurice was spending Christmas with his family, not thinking about hockey, not pondering what he was going to do next.

A week earlier, on Dec. 17, 2021, he’d shocked the hockey world by announcing that he was resigning as coach of the Winnipeg Jets. It was his 24th season as an NHL coach and ninth with Winnipeg, and he simply was burned out.

“It was time,” he said in an interview from Florida. “I’d lost my love for the game, and that had never happened before.”

One year later, he has rediscovered his passion for the job and the sport that has given him so much in his life.

Asked if he’d been reinvigorated by being behind an NHL bench again, specifically as coach of the Florida Panthers, you could hear the spark in his voice was back.

“And then some!” the 55-year-old said emotionally.

“You have to understand; I was burned out. It wasn’t fun anymore. It hadn’t been since we went into the bubble for the (2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs). I hadn’t been living up to my own expectations. [The Jets] needed a new voice.

“When you’ve coached as long as I have, you’re always planning for the next game, the next season, the next draft. Suddenly I started just taking things day by day. It was great. I hadn’t done that in, well, had I ever, really?Now I could sit back and cheer my butt off for the Winnipeg Jets, the organization and the city that had done so much for me and my family.

“For a long time I didn’t even think about what I was going to do next. At least not until May. And when I did, it didn’t necessarily have to relate to hockey.”

Until it did.

Maurice was driving to Winnipeg from his cottage on Lake of the Woods in northern Ontario in early June when he got a call from Panthers general manager Bill Zito. The Panthers hired Maurce on June 22, even though he hadn’t been actively promoting himself for another job.

“I was looking forward to spending the summer at the lake, but when I met with Bill, I liked what he said, I liked the roster, I liked the situation. More importantly, I was ready to go back. I would not have if I wasn’t.”

The Panthers got off to a 4-1-1 start but have struggled since and are 15-16-4 after a 5-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Friday.

“The first four months are exactly why I’m here,” he said. “The start was good but then we’ve hit some adversity. We needed that. We need to learn how to grind through tough times. It’s something this team needs to figure out how to deal with in order to get better.

“Our special teams need to be better. Our goalies would tell you they need to be better. And injuries, well, every team has them, but being without guys like (defenseman) Aaron Ekblad and (forward) Aleksander Barkov for 10-game chunks at a time, well, it’s naive to think that didn’t play a role.”

Maurice said the Panthers schedule will be tough through the middle of January. “But starting Jan. 20, we’ll still have half our home games remaining and that’s where we have the chance to gain traction.

“It’s been an interesting year and then some,” he said. “It’s just good to be back.”

ALL HAIL CALE?

Colorado Avalanche Defenseman Cale Makar made headlines Dec. 19 when he tried to wave off a penalty he apparently drew. Makar was skating behind his own net and went down as New York Islanders forward Matthew Barzal attempted to take the puck off him. When one of the two referees put his hand up to signal a minor penalty, Maker waved his arm to indicate he’d fallen on his own and that no penalty was warranted.

NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom said he’s seen players wave off penalties before. In this instance, he said he wanted to set the record straight by pointing out that the penalty was not taken off the board just because of the 24-year-old defenseman’s gesture.

“What most people didn’t see is how quickly the referees huddled together immediately,” Walkom said in a phone interview. “You can see (referee) Marc Joannette immediately go over to (referee) Brandon Blandina and tell him Makar lost an edge.

“I’m not saying Makar’s gesture didn’t play a role, but it wasn’t the sole reason the call was overturned. Referees wouldn’t take a penalty off the board just because a player says so.”

The Avalanche went on to win the game 1-0 in a shootout. Afterward, Makar told reporters he was having second thoughts regarding his actions.

“I felt a lot more guilty about doing that than probably if I would’ve said nothing,” Makar said. “I don’t know if it’s something I’ll do again.”

QUOTES/UN QUOTES

“It’s an amazing accomplishment. To be in the same league together and see the success that he’s had is awesome. There will be a lot more milestones in his future. I’ve known him since I was 12 years old, so it’s great to if it’s.” –Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares on Steven Stamkos. Tavares is 17 games away from reaching the 1,000-game milestone. Stamkos, who is 54 games away from that mark himself, was a teammate with Tavares on the Toronto Blues summer team when they were each 12 years old.

THE SUNDAY LIST

Chuck Fletcher was born in Montreal into a hockey family and grew up in Atlanta, where his father, Cliff, was general manager of the Atlanta Flames. Georgia wasn’t the hockey hotbed that Quebec was, but Chuck, now general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, still remembers his favorite hockey-themed gifts he received for Christmas when he was a boy. Here’s his list of him:

1. “Slot hockey, knob hockey, table hockey, whatever you want to call it. We had the plastic players, not the metal ones. We would play for hours.”

2. “I don’t know what it’s called but it was this table wooden hockey game where you actually held sticks and shot with them. In front of each net was a triangular piece of wood that kept you from shooting it straight into the net. In order to score, you had to bank it off the side cushions kind of like indoor shuffleboard. And if you’re battling and the other guy hacked you on the hand with his stick, your knuckles would hurt!” (It’s called Nok Hockey, by the way).

3. “Any road hockey stuff … nets, sticks, anything like that. Yes, there was street hockey in Atlanta. We made sure of it. And we played all the time.”

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