Jordan Staal plays hours after birth of first child
RALEIGH, N.C. — Many of the most important moments in a hockey player’s life happen when they’re not around to see them or with the sport as a constant and necessary backdrop.
Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal found out while he was getting married that he was going from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Carolina Hurricanes back in 2012 and that he’d get to join forces with his older brother Eric.
It was great news, but obviously, there was something bigger happening that day.
As he recovered from a broken leg suffered in the preseason, his wife Heather was getting more and more pregnant with their first child. The 26-year-old worried at times that he’d miss that, too.
"There was a lot of talk, obviously, with me coming back right around the time of the due date and the whole works," Staal said. "Every player worries about just not being there."
His older brother Eric has been there already with three children of his own. His third was born not that long ago, just 10 days before Christmas. The 30-year-old had his first child back in 2009.
"I’ve been there for each one. You don’t want to miss the birth of your children, even though in this environment, it can happen," the older Staal said. "It’s a pretty surreal experience."
Jordan returned to the ice for the first time this season back on December 29, and he took a hit late in that game (a loss) that kept him out for the next one against his old team for precautionary reasons. He knew he was going to return to the lineup again in Friday night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers, assuming all was well at the morning skate.
But then his wife went into labor on Thursday night, and she gave birth to the couple’s first child — Abigail — at 2:22 a.m. on Friday.
"I think we went in there around 9 (Thursday night) and we had the baby around 2:30-ish (Friday morning)," Jordan said. "Until 5:30, yeah, maybe shutting my eyes for a little bit. I got a nice little pregame nap that felt like an eight-hour knockout this afternoon, but it was nice to get that in."
Sleep was the last thing on his mind at that point, though. As the Hurricanes were in the process of beating the Flyers 2-1 — Jordan had an assist on his brother Eric’s goal in the second — he didn’t feel tired. He just felt adrenaline.
"There’s a lot there. Every once in awhile, just sitting on the bench, it’s in the back of your mind for sure," Jordan said. It just gives you little chills and excitement, and it definitely keeps you going."
His older brother knew it was happening — as did the rest of the extended Staal clan — because of a mass text Jordan sent out to tell them it was happening. Eric went to bed at a normal time, because he has a newborn of his own to worry about, and woke up to see a picture of his niece.
"I’ve got a two-week old, so I was a little step behind because I’m not getting as much sleep as him running on adrenaline. So in two weeks, he’ll be maybe moving a little bit slower like I was," Eric said, grinning. "It’s a lot of fun. We’re going to have some kids around the same age, so it’s pretty cool for us to experience that."
In spite of the lack of sleep and the emotional toll having a child takes on everyone involved, neither Staal brother really thought about skipping the game. Eric said that he was there for the birth of each of his children, but never missed a game afterwards. ("It’s just kind of the business, I think," he said.)
Jordan was running on a few hours of sleep, but after he tested the leg at morning skate (yes, he went to morning skate), he felt good. The whole time he was there, his phone was continuing to blow up with messages and well-wishes from friends and family, and he was overwhelmed. But he likely didn’t even have time to soak it up.
It seemed almost to hit him for the first time as he sat in the postgame locker room. Both he and his older brother were the last ones left. His face was a mix of joy, fatigue and disbelief — the good kind of disbelief, the one that comes only when you know your life is changed forever for the better.
His wife’s original due date had been about three weeks later, so his fear of missing the birth of his first child was very real. The Hurricanes have a two-game road trip to Canada coming up on Jan. 17 and Jan. 19.
"It was, in a way, good and bad that it came early and I was there. I got to see the whole thing. So it was awesome," Jordan said, his voice thick with all the emotion of the day. "It was really, really cool and I’m happy I was fully a part of it."