Will Stamkos Follow His Heart?
A soldier returns…Coming back from vacation…Taking your newborn back from the hospital…There is no place quite like it. Dorothy was right, “there is no place like home.” And since a 1939 summer release in pre-war America, it has been quoted millions of times over.
Let’s take Lebron James for example. Born in Ohio, went to school in Ohio, cried, laughed, dreamed, dreamed BIG, and dreamed BIGGER in Ohio. It was home. It will always be home for him. And if it were not for a 4 year hiatus, it’s all he’s ever known. Of course he pissed off his hometown by leaving for Miami and thus, ripping the hearts out of an entire state. Not to mention upsetting old friends, old teammates and old fans. He won his championships in Miami and I’m sure it was a dream come true, but it wasn’t HIS dream because he couldn’t enjoy it with the people that mattered the most…
Currently, Lebron is two wins away from realizing HIS dream. Winning for Akron. Winning for Cleveland. Winning for friends, family and fans. Winning for the people that haven’t seen a Cleveland Championship in more than a half century. Lebron is two wins away from winning for HOME. As great a joy as he felt for the two championships he captured in Miami, I could only imagine that his heart will rip in half if Cleveland is victorious. It won’t feel the same and it shouldn’t. It’s better…way BETTER. What good is success unless you have the most important people in your life to enjoy it with you? I have never seen a player go from being a polarizing figure to a possible hero in such a short period of time. Why? Because EVERYONE loves a good story and EVERYONE loves a hometown hero…EVERYONE!
Out of the four major sports, there is another league that is also in the middle of a Championship Final…Hockey. For us Canadians, you don’t need to turn us on to this at all. We love it. We live it and we would eat it if it were food. In the Stanley Cup Final, there is a leader in Tampa who is also two wins from realizing his dream and he wants it so badly it hurts! His name is Steven Stamkos. Markham’s own! Local boy eh? Hey, isn’t Markham close to that city called Toronto? Hockey is pretty big there, isn’t it? No. It’s bigger than big. It’s a religion, a passion, a marriage and a lifelong commitment to our beloved Maple Leafs. It has been well documented that Mr. Stamkos grew up much like us, a Maple Leafs fan since birth. I can only speculate here, but I can picture a blonde baby taking his first steps, forcing the words “Ma Ma” from his mouth. I’m sure he stumbled like a newborn deer over a stick and picked it up. He wrapped his little fingers around it and the stick became as familiar as a bottle, a stuffed toy or a favourite blanket. The great thing with “Ma Ma” is that it’s a fantastic start to one of his newest words that he probably learned in those first 3 years…”Ma-ple Leafs.” That word was probably spoken as casually as “Hello, Goodbye, Thanks, Yes, No” in their household. I know or I should say WE know this because we have all lived this. Leafs Nation is Leafs Nation whether it’s in Markham, Hamilton, Brantford, Whitby, etc… It is a daily topic with dad, mom, brother, sister, school friends, teachers…everyone! My point here is (before I run the risk of romanticizing this in a way that only Bob Costas could appreciate) that it’s beyond a passion. It’s life. Its…
Steven lived this too. He cheered along with us when Sundin beat Lalime in Game 1 of the 2001 NHL Playoffs. He cheered when Gary Roberts went full warrior in the 2002 post-season. He cheered louder when Sundin scored with just seconds left against Carolina in Game 6. And he cried with us when Gelinas broke our hearts less than an hour later. We have had too many of those moments. What stands out for me, personally, is that I remember going to school after the Leafs lost against the Kings in 1993 and it was hard to shake the feeling of loss. I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t laugh and I couldn’t stop the lump in my throat. Why am I crying? How long will this feeling last I asked myself? They’ll win one day, right? We all asked ourselves these questions. It’s not easy. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for Steven as a middle schooler in 2002. After that May night, it must have been difficult to go to school and concentrate. Let alone fight back tears as he thought about what might have been.
Sports are designed to break our hearts. You could write a book on what we have had to endure as Leaf fans and many would think it was a work of fiction. It is part Stephen King, part Ernest Hemmingway and part Charles Dickens. So scary, sad, dramatic, hopeful and so shocking that nobody would believe it…unless you lived it. Here is a story that we all know too well and so does Steven. And because we are so deeply invested emotionally, it hits too close to our hearts and…
There is NO DOUBT that Steven will be beyond euphoric if they win two more games and capture the Stanley Cup. NO DOUBT. However, the kid in him might not see it the same way. That’s not how it was imagined. That’s not the scenario that he ran through his head on his way to practice in the early mornings. It isn’t. It’s great, yes, but not perfect. Perfect is HOME. Perfect is winning for your family, friends, old coaches and the people that watched you grow. Perfect is winning for a city, a religion and legions of fans. That is PERFECT. So when he (hopefully) hoists that Stanley Cup and fights the tears that fill his eyes, he will look in front of him and barely make out his teammates in blue and white. Blue and White!!! Amazing, but wait, that’s the wrong logo! Nevertheless, it’s still spectacular, but somehow “imperfect.” Lebron knows this and he is proof. You can win, but it’s just not the same. Lebron has become the thesis and the prime example of this topic. So dear Steven, we wish you so much luck on your next two victories and capturing the Stanley Cup. Celebrate. Enjoy it. Learn from it. Become a better player, teacher and captain for it. And at the same time watch how Lebron reacts when he looks to long suffering fans and delivers what they crave so much. No, not crave…desperately need. Watch the tears, the pain, the suffering and the years of walking like lost souls… Win Steven. Win those two games…and then come HOME.
“Where we love is home – home that our feet leave, but not our hearts.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes