While the popularity of hockey comes and goes depending on where in the United States you may be, it has long-standing tradition in its native land of Canada. So much tradition that in the history of the NHL there have been many families with multiple players in the league. Gordie, Mark and Marty Howe; the Sutter brothers; Phil and Tony Espositio to name a few. The latest family to invade hockey are the Staal brothers, from Thunder Bay Ontario. Eric, Jordan and Marc have already made an impact in the NHL with Eric and Jordan both getting their names on the Stanley Cup already in their young career. A forth brother, Jared, was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes and is currently playing in the American Hockey League (“AHL”).
The oldest and first Staal to arrive in the NHL was Eric. Eric was drafted 2nd overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes. He stepped immediately into the NHL with a respectable rookie season scoring 11 goals and 31 points. Unfortunately, Carolina followed up a loss in the Stanley Cup Finals with a 28-34-14-6 season and missed the NHL playoffs. It would not be long before success would come Eric’s and Carolina’s way, however.
The following season saw a labor war between the owners and the NHL Player’s Association resulting in the cancellation of the 2004-05 season. As a result, many young players who would have been in the NHL that year ended up playing for their AHL affiliates. Staal was one of them. Playing for the Lowell Lock Monsters, Staal would score 77 points in 77 games and started to show the two-way play and ability to use his size that inspired Carolina to draft him 2nd overall.
The 2005-06 season would see significant changes to the Carolina roster. Veteran players such as Ray Whitney, Matt Cullen and Cory Stillman were added to a roster that already included Staal, captain Rod Brind’amour and young winger Justin Williams who was acquired from Philadelphia in 2004. Additionally, coach Peter Laviolette would begin his first full season with the team.
Carolina stormed out of the gate and finished the season with a 52-22-6-2 record. Staal, who obviously benefited from the season in the NHL, led the team with 45 goals and 100 points during the regular season and would finish 4th in voting for the Hart Memorial Trophy awarded annually to the league’s most valuable player. At the trade deadline, a couple other veterans were added in Doug Weight and Mark Recchi.
In the playoffs, led by the stellar goal-tending of rookie Cam Ward, the strong, steady play and leadership of Rod Brind’amour and Glen Wesley and the scoring of Staal, the Carolina Hurricanes would defeat the Edmonton Oilers in 7 games to win the first Stanley Cup in the history of the franchise. Staal would lead his team in scoring in the playoffs as well with 9 goals and 28 points in 25 games. Shortly after the finals, Staal was re-signed to a 3 year, $13.5 million contract. A star was born.
The following few seasons Staal would have continued individual success, although not at the same level as in 2005-06. He would surpass 30 goals and 70 points all three seasons, and return to the 40 goal club in 2008-09. He also played every game over that span of 4 seasons. While the team missed the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, they did return in 2009 with a run to the Eastern Conference Finals, winning two tough 7 game series against the Devils and Bruins, only to be swept by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Staal continues to be a consistent force on the ice using his size and strength to play in all three zones. As long as Carolina can keep a solid supporting cast around him, they will remain a competitive team.
Staal played junior hockey with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, (“OHL”). He was selected 13th overall in the 2000 OHL Draft from the Thunder Bay Kings. Staal would play 3 seasons with the Petes, and put up 81 goals and 209 points over 185 games. In his final year in the OHL, the Petes would lose in a heartbreaking game 7 in the first round of the playoffs against the Oshawa Generals in what would end up being Staal’s final game in junior hockey. He played like a man possessed scoring 14 points in the 7 game series.