On Wednesday night, EA Sports announced their newest cover athlete for the popular NHL video game series during the League's annual awards broadcast. Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning was given the honors for NHL 12, which comes out on Sept. 13.
After being chained to the bench during the start of his rookie campaign under Barry Melrose in 2008-09, Stamkos erupted with a 51-goal season last year, winning him a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy with Sidney Crosby. He came off that career year with 45 goals this season and helped lead the Lightning to the Eastern Conference Final and one win away from playing for the Stanley Cup.
We spoke with Stamkos on Wednesday just a few hours before the official announcement of the NHL 12 cover about his gaming abilities, taking batting practice with the Tampa Bay Rays and the experience of taking a slapshot to the face.
How does it feel to be a video game cover boy?
It's a pretty big honor to be partnered with EA Sports for this cover. It's something that I'm obviously very excited about a game I grew up playing and still play to this day. To see myself on this cover is a tremendous honor.
Is NHL the game of choice when you guys are on the road? I know a lot of players like to play Call of Duty as well.
Yep. Those would probably be the top two; other EA Sports games as well. Whenever we get a couple minute of down time when we're at home with nothing to do, we definitely play video games and this is one I enjoy playing.
Who's the best NHL gamer on the Lightning? You can say yourself.
I don't think I'm the best. We're probably all pretty even. We haven't played in a while obviously going through the playoffs, but I'm sure I'll have an excuse to start a tournament next year with me being on the cover. I think I'll get back to you on that answer.
Does this cover achievement ensure a bit of a ratings boost for your player in the game?
That's what I told them. I haven't actually checked my rating yet, but from past experiences seeing the guys who've been on the cover have had a pretty good rating. I got a chance to play the game a little bit this morning and I looked pretty good in it.
This is your first trip to Vegas since you turned 21. Have you partaken in any Vegas activities yet?
[Laughs] Yeah, I know last year was a little different being in Vegas and not being able to have a beer or gamble a little bit. I played blackjack a little bit last night and had a few adult beverages, so it's definitely a lot more fun this time around.
Recently you and some teammates took batting practice with the Tampa Bay Rays. Has Mike Smith stopped bragging about his home run yet?
[Laughs] That was a lot of fun. That was something we had all wanted to do for a long time and Smitty was the one lucky enough to hit one out. I think he took the most swings though. He wasn't leaving 'til he hit one out. I think he might have cut into the Rays' batting practice a little bit before the game. It was definitely nice to see someone hit one out from our team and all the guys on the Rays were letting us know they had a couple football guys out and someone hit one out, so didn't want to go 0'fer.
I know you played a little ball when you were younger and you wound up hitting a couple to the warning track. Were you surprised the skills were still there?
Yeah, I played 'til 13, 14 and I haven't swung in a while, but the Rays are a first-class organization and they invited us out there. I hit a couple to the track and a couple just foul that would've made it if I'd straightened it out a little bit. It was a great time. I love watching baseball. I love playing it. I love hockey more and chose that, so I think it's worked out.
What was initially going through your head after taking that puck to the face in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins?
Originally when the puck first hit me, I had no clue where the puck was and the thing you fear most as a hockey player is getting a slapshot to the face, so at least I know how that feels now. It felt like my nose was actually indented, like in my face, so when I went down originally I just felt around and it was still there and I knew it was a good chance to be broken and obviously a lot of blood. [I] just tried to get off as quick as possible. In the playoffs we're lucky enough to have our team doctors travel with us, so they were there waiting for me. They did a great job and got me out there as quick as possible. It definitely was going to be a game I didn't want to miss. That was the biggest game of my career. It was a pretty easy decision.
Did you watch any of the Stanley Cup Final or were you in vacation mode after the Bruins series?
I watched Game 1 and 2 and went on a little vacation and then caught the last couple games. It's obviously tough watching that knowing how close you were and then seeing Boston win, I guess at least we lost to the champs, but knowing one goal and we could have been in there with how tight Game 7 was. It was a little bit bittersweet, but in the end they deserved it and it was an entertaining Final.
I know you talked about your contract situation a bit on Tuesday, are you expecting it to get done in the next week or by July 1?
Yeah, I hope so. If it goes beyond then, then obviously things can change in a hurry. It was something midway through the season that I didn't want to have that as a distraction and I said we'll wait 'til after the year. A long playoff run doesn't leave you a lot of time to get things done; then you have the Combine and the Draft in-between, so right now it's my agent and the management group in Tampa trying to get together at a time that works for both parties and we'll see where it goes from there.