With the news that Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos’ surgery was successful on Tuesday and that he would be returning to Tampa on Thursday, the hockey community can let out some of the air it has been holding. While there were a few insensitive people making comments after the horrific accident that took place during Monday’s Boston Bruins game against the Lightning, the true fans of the sport all felt horrible. Any serious injury such as that experienced by Stamkos transcends team rivalries. The hockey family as a whole feels awful.

And now that Stamkos has taken his first step toward recovery, and many players have expressed their concerns for him, it does not seem insensitive to ponder how the teams that were playing at the time of the accident get back into the game; which they must do.

On October 12, 2013, while the USHL Dubuque Fighting Saints were playing a regular season game in Cedar Rapids, Iowa against the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, a mild fisticuff resulted in the Saints’ Dylan Chanter falling, sans helmet, and hitting his head on the ice. While it was clear that he was unconscious, he suddenly exhibited signs of a seizure. After medical personnel attended to, and removed, Chanter so that he could be taken to the hospital, it was decided by the USHL to postpone the remainder of the game, which was finally completed on November 12, 2013. It was felt that the scene that had been witnessed by the players and the overall lingering emotions of the event merited the postponement of the game.

When it came to the Bruins/Lightning game, that was not an option. After Stamkos was taken off the ice by stretcher the game continued. However the change in the energy, not only among the players but also among the fans in attendance, was palpable.

During the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals game three, when the Vancouver Canucks were in Boston, everyone watched as Canucks Aaron Rome’s hit knocked Bruins Nathan Horton unconscious. After Horton had been taken off the ice, the Bruins went on a five-minute major power play. While the Bruins power play that season had been less than stellar, it was evident that in that case they were simply having difficulty focusing. It was obvious that their thoughts were more on their fallen teammate than on the game at that moment. However, when the Bruins took the ice for the start of the second period, they had clearly found the focus and resolve necessary to put eight pucks in the net to not only finish, but win the game.

After horrific injuries, the team with the injured player often uses that as motivation to take control of the game, decimating the opposition in the process. Such was not to be the case during the Bruins tilt with the Lightning.

When play resumed, it appeared that both teams required a couple of shifts to settle themselves. However, it was the Bruins who somehow refocused their energy on the game at hand. Patrice Bergeron managed to get a wrist shot past Lightning goalie Anders Lindback, assisted by Loui Eriksson and Torey Krug. This got the fans back into the game — though a couple of valiant fans had tried to get the “Let’s go Bruins!” chant going some time after the game resumed.

Bruins head coach Claude Julien then sent out his fourth line — the Merlot Line, as they are often referred — of Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell, and Daniel Paille. Just 20 seconds after Bergeron’s goal, Paille found the back of the net.

“That’s the type of role we accept as a line.” — Paille

During post-game interviews, Paille was asked if he appreciated Julien’s show of confidence in putting them out on the first shift after the goal. “Definitely, and that’s the type of role we accept as a line, and it’s a big bonus that a goal came right out of it,” he answered. “For us, we’re going to do everything we can to score some goals and create that energy like we do every game.”

For Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who was right there when it happened, it would be understandable if he had a little trouble re-focusing on the game.

It was while Stamkos was back checking Hamilton that the terrible spill took place. Hamilton explained, “I was just trying to drive the net and he was too fast for me so he caught me and I guess we both just went to the net. He fell and then hit the post pretty hard,”

One of Stamkos’ teammates headed toward Hamilton to dish out some on-ice retribution, but the Bruins own policeman, Thornton, stepped in to calm the situation. That player wasn’t the only one who believed that Hamilton had made a dirty hit, so did the Lightning’s on-air announcers. The replays would show it was just an unfortunate accident probably made slightly less severe by the breakaway goal pegs.

When asked about getting refocused, Hamilton replied, “Yeah it sticks in your head. I think obviously at any time in the game you can get hurt and you’ve got to be aware of that.”

But hockey is a game of big bodies traveling at high speeds. The players cannot dwell on such events or it is likely they would no longer be able to play at the speed and with the force required at the NHL level. As Hamilton concluded, “You feel bad for [Stamkos], so I think [you] just try to… refocus and get back into playing.”

Hamilton did admit that watching Stamkos crash into the net did scare him. Hopefully, as callous as it may sound, he and the others who watched the accident unfold can put it in some part of their brain where they can lock it up tight. Otherwise it is unlikely they could continue to do what they do during each game, or more specifically do what they must in each game.

A family historian by profession, Rhonda R. McClure has loved hockey since she was a child in New Hampshire. Any opportunity to combine her love of writing, hockey and research is something she looks forward to with much enthusiasm. She's been accused of seeking out shinny games when there are no other hockey events taking place. She is a member of the Society for International Hockey Research. Follow her on Twitter at @HockeyMaven1917.

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