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Stillman passes initiation

First-year Lightning wing emerged from video session beatings with more ice time.

Published February 19, 2004

[Times photo: Dan McDuffie]
Cory Stillman, who faces his old team in St. Louis tonight, is on pace to top the highs in assists and points he set last season.

ST. LOUIS - When Cory Stillman was told coach John Tortorella considered him "the star" of many of the team's early season video sessions, the Lightning wing chuckled.

Stillman knows being the star of those shows is not so much a medal of honor as a badge of courage.

Mistakes are shown in graphic detail - in slow motion - for the players to see. It is a valuable learning tool. But for someone like Stillman, acquired during the summer and trying to figure out a new system, well, let's just say his ego had better days.

Thank goodness, Stillman joked, Tampa Bay last month traded for defenseman Darryl Sydor.

"Now we have Darryl so we get to watch him more than we watch me," he said Wednesday.

Seriously, though, "The longer you're here, it doesn't bother me anymore. But at the start, you see yourself on tape, you start to second-guess yourself, saying, "Wow, I make a lot of mistakes. I'm doing everything wrong."'

Tampa Bay's video sessions probably don't bother Stillman as much because he is doing so much right.

Playing on a line with center Brad Richards and Fredrik Modin, the Peterborough, Ontario, native is second on the team with 35 assists and 52 points, and his 17 goals include five winners and a team-high 10 on the power play.

And with the Southeast-leading Lightning riding a 10-1-1 streak, the setup for tonight's game against the Blues at the Savvis Center couldn't be better.

Stillman, 30, spent two-plus seasons in St. Louis and last season had career highs of 43 assists and 67 points before being dealt to Tampa Bay for a second-round draft pick.

If Stillman keeps this season's pace, he will end with 24 goals (same as last season), 49 assists and 73 points.

"It's been great," said Stillman, who has five goals and 22 assists in his past 19 games. "We're a young team and we're making strides and it's fun. It's great to come to the rink, and not just coming to play but coming and expecting to win and wanting to win. That's what we're doing. We're pushing to see how many points we can get and see how good a team we can be."

"We knew Cory Stillman was going to be a very good player for us," Tortorella said. "But it took him a little while to understand, to know how we play and how we go about things with tape and all. But he's settled in and understands the expectations of how we do things. And that has allowed him to be a steady, steady influence."

Even when Stillman went through a 23-game slump from Nov. 22 to Jan. 8, in which he had two goals and seven assists, he knew he had to stick with the system. It wasn't easy.

"When you look at it, teams play different styles and they want players in different positions," Stillman said. "It's just by instinct you go back to your old positioning. But once you understand this one, video time becomes less and less."

A move from left to right wing helped. Stillman, a left-handed shot, can sandwich the puck between his body and the boards as he carries it backhand through the offensive zone. And when he turns to face the net he is in better position to shoot forehand.

Stillman's passing and ability to get shots to the net earned him a point spot on a power play that has converted 13 of its past 40 opportunities (32.5 percent).

"It doesn't matter - a goal, an assist - the biggest thing right now is to win and put your personal stuff behind," he said. "We're all after one goal, and that is to win hockey games and win a championship."

Stillman said he isn't worried about his reception from Blues fans.

"There are always emotions when you go back and play your former team," he said. "Whether they cheer you or boo you, that's their opinion. It's just going to be nice to play and hopefully we can come out and beat them."

And wouldn't that be nice to watch on videotape?

[Last modified February 19, 2004, 02:00:25]

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