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Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on prior to the game against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center on Nov. 19, 2009 in Anaheim. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on prior to the game against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center on Nov. 19, 2009 in Anaheim. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Canada counting on Stamkos to make big impact Add to ...

Steven Stamkos has a score to settle at the IIHF World Hockey Championship.

The talented centre was having a dream run at last year's event until it was interrupted by a hot Russian goalie who stunned Canada and stole the gold medal. Stamkos still has clear memories of the disappointment that followed the final game, where Russia edged Canada 2-1 despite being outshot 38-17.

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"I thought we deserved to win," he said in a recent interview. "(Ilya) Bryzgalov played a hell of a game, I think we outshot them two to one. We just couldn't get anything by him.

"It was definitely tough."

He's in search of a happier ending this time around in Germany.

Stamkos and goaltender Chris Mason are the only Canadian players back at the event for a second straight year. A new tournament has brought on different expectations for the 20-year-old Stamkos, who tied Sidney Crosby for the NHL's goal-scoring lead this season with 51.

A year ago, he was surprised to even receive an invitation to the world championship. Now the Canadian brass has essentially identified him as the team's top forward.

"We will be counting on him heavily," said general manager Mark Messier. "We've got a young team - he fits the profile - and he will be a guy that we lean on."

It's exactly the kind of thing Stamkos wants to hear.

"Obviously, I had a good year this year and I proved last year at the world championships that I can be counted on offensively," he said. "That's the kind of pressure that I want. I definitely am going to be going over there trying to produce as much offence as I can and help this team win."

Once his season ended with the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 11, Stamkos took about a week off to relax and play some golf. Since then, he's been skating each day in Florida with Lightning teammate Steve Downie, who is also heading to the world championship.

It's taken some work to stay sharp and get ready for the event.

"It's amazing what a week off can do to your game," said Stamkos. "You don't think it's too long, but you get back on the ice and you definitely notice a substantial difference."

The experience at last year's world championship played a big part in the breakout season Stamkos just finished. He gained a lot of confidence while playing alongside Martin St. Louis and Shane Doan in Switzerland, finishing among the tournament leaders with seven goals and 11 points in nine games.

Even though he'd rather be in a playoff run with the Lightning right now, Stamkos is excited about getting to soak in the world championship atmosphere again. The most notable thing for him about the event has nothing to do with the bigger international ice surface or some unique rules.

"The fans are crazy - it's like a European soccer game," said Stamkos. "They've got the crazy whistles and they're jumping in the stands. It's definitely something you don't really get a feel for unless you're there.

"The part away from the hockey is great too. Just the sight-seeing and different cultures and being able to hang out with the guys. It's a great experience."

He's expecting it to be even better the second time around.

Stamkos is already familiar with a number of players on the roster - including Downie and minor hockey teammate Michael Del Zotto - and senses that the young squad will be pretty hungry for gold. He can't wait for the tournament to get going with a game against Italy on Saturday.

"I'm just going to go over there and have some fun," said Stamkos. "I know a lot of the guys from before, whether it's from junior, minor hockey or just from around the league. It's going to be a fun time and hopefully we can win."

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