RALEIGH, N.C. — This Saturday night should be a bit emotional for the Staal brothers.
For the first time as professional hockey players, Eric and Jordan Staal will take the ice together as teammates when the Carolina Hurricanes visit the Florida Panthers, kicking off an NHL season that normally would have begun three months earlier.
The wait, due to a lockout that lasted more than 100 days, has only heightened the sense of excitement for the Staals, who became teammates on June 22 when Jordan was acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins in a trade.
Jordan, 24, was basically waiting at the altar for his bride-to-be when he learned of the news. A star with the Penguins, he was joining his older brother, a perennial All-Star, on a team that has intriguing potential.
“It was obviously a lot of emotions that day, and finding out I’m moving here and get to play on a great team and getting to play with Eric was a really cool feeling,” Jordan said.
The pair is just two of four Staal brothers currently signed to NHL contracts. Marc plays with the New York Rangers, and Jared, the youngest at 21, plays for the Hurricanes’ minor league affiliate in Charlotte.
Upon getting Jordan, the ‘Canes locked him up with a 10-year, $60 million extension, so the brothers plan on being teammates for the foreseeable future. And that’s a good thing for Carolina fans.
Eric has scored 250 goals and handed out 324 assists in his career, which includes a Stanley Cup championship in 2006, and Jordan has 120 career goals and 128 assists. The ‘Canes closed the season playing well last spring and made some interesting offseason moves that should put them in the playoffs come May.
Carolina came up short a year ago, even though Eric Staal had 50 points in the team’s final 43 games. He slumped early in the season, though, and getting Jordan should relieve some of the pressure to produce.
The younger Staal had 25 goals and 25 assists with the Penguins and also scored six goals in the playoffs. He’s considered excellent at killing penalties and checking, an area the ‘Canes needed improvement. He’s also regarded as a terrific teammate.
Initially, some Hurricanes executives wanted to play the brothers together on the same line, even though both are centers.
But as it stands, Eric will lead the first line Saturday, with Jordan handling the middle on the second line. Carolina has considerable depth, but didn’t want to put all of its eggs into the same basket. But there’s no doubt that circumstance will demand the Staals will occasionally be on the ice at the same time.
“Oh, no question, there’ll definitely be moments when we’ll be out there together,” Eric said. “There’s a lot of games and there’s a lot of different situations during games that arise, and I’m sure in special teams or even 5-on-5 in the third period or certain nights to get things going we’ll wind up on the same line.”
When they are, it will somewhat seem like old times in the Staal household.
They grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, the sons of sod farmers. And as long as their memories can stretch, the Staals remember playing hockey together. It was in their DNA from Day 1.
“It would be outdoors skating, really,” Eric said when asked about his earliest memory. “We did everything. Outdoors in the winter, outdoors in the summer, mini-sticks in the house, anything that involved hockey when we were young we did. I have memories with all three of my brothers doing that sort of thing.”
Jordan’s early memories include mini-sticks and their mom playing referee.
“We were all close in age, so when we were home we were always with each other, playing games, whether it was hockey or basketball or anything really,” Jordan said. “It was always competitive and a lot of fun …
“Our mom made sure we stayed in line. There weren’t too many elbows thrown or sticks thrown, but there was a few times when it got a little heated. But our mom kept us in line usually.”
And here they are, about the start a season together in the NHL. This is a role they played out as kids, and now it’s becoming a reality.
Eric says the process has recently been a bit of a “whirlwind” and that it’s “tough to get a good sense of it, yet,” meaning grasping the reality they are teammates for the long haul. But it’s here, prompting the question: What’s more exciting, adding a player with Jordan’s skills or simply adding Jordan?
“A little bit of both,” Eric responded. “For me, I’ve been here awhile and mostly as player I know how good he is, I’ve played against him for a couple of years. He’s got presence on the ice and now he’s on our squad. It’s real exciting for me and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do going forward.”
Jordan, naturally, gave a similar answer to the same question.
“Both, obviously it’s great for our family and to be able to play with your brother at this level,” he said. “It’s something special, and at the same time he’s a really good player. He leads this team so well, he’s so great on the ice and he’s been a superstar in this league for a long time, hopefully I can elevate his game even more.”
Jordan admitted Saturday night won’t be business as usual before the game and when he takes the ice. It will be emotional, and that’s understandable.
Saturday will be a special night for Henry and Linda Staal and everyone in the hockey-heavy family. It will be for the Hurricanes, too. They didn’t make this family reunion happen for a feel-good story, they did it to better their chances at winning.