There will be many interesting storylines surrounding the Canadian Men’s Olympic Hockey Team as they prepare to compete in Beijing.
Lots will be made of the players on this team you might not know a whole lot about and what they might be able to bring to this group. However, it’s also important to discuss the most recognizable player on this team, Eric Staal.
Staal will be the centre of attention on this team, and maybe of the entire tournament. Let’s discuss some of the reasons why this Team Canada will go as far as Staal can take them.
Staal’s NHL Experience
Staal has the longest, most successful NHL career of any player named to Team Canada. Sure, there are players like Owen Power who very likely could have a long, storied NHL career, but he hasn’t had that opportunity yet.
Staal has seen it all and done it all in the NHL. In 1293 games, he had 441 goals and 593 assists for 1034 points. He was an instant star in the league, registering 100 points in just his 2nd NHL season while helping lead the Carolina Hurricanes to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
However, possibly the most impactful learning experience from the NHL that he can bring to Beijing is his resilience. When his time ended in Carolina and he was dealt to the New York Rangers, many believed his time as a game-breaking player was over.
Staal, however, did not believe the same. He went on to join the Minnesota Wild, as in his first two seasons scored a combined 70 goals, including 42 in the 2017-18 season. He persevered through the rumours that his age was slowing him down and found a way to retool his game to become one of the best goal-scorers in the NHL once again, well into his 30’s.
The Olympics are a challenging stage for any player, and it can be challenging physically and mentally for a player if they struggle early in the tournament. Staal is the perfect player to help navigate others through the roller-coaster that could come from representing Canada at the Olympics.
Staal’s Name Recognizability
It’s somewhat unfortunate how true it is, but the fact that Eric Staal has a name well known throughout the hockey world might play a role at these Olympics.
Players from other countries likely won’t know all the players on Team Canada but they will know Staal. They will know when he is on the ice and will try to keep track of where he is.
That could help take some of the pressure, and attention, off some of the lesser established but still highly talented players on the team.
For some players on Team Canada, Staal was a player they watched while growing up. They might remember playing as Eric Staal on video games growing up. Youngster Mason McTavish was a star with the Peterborough Petes, the same junior team Eric Staal played for from 2000 to 2003.
These players will want to play with Staal and win with him. Looking up in the dressing room and seeing one of the biggest names in the NHL from when they were kids could get anyone excited to play. It’s not a very thought-about factor, but having a player who could one day be in the Hockey Hall of Fame does have some significant benefits.
Staal’s Experience with Team Canada
As a member of Team Canada’s Olympics men’s hockey roster during the 2010 Vancouver winter games, Staal brings the experience of winning a gold medal on the most prominent international stage in the world to this team.
No one else on this Team Canada heading to Beijing has that type of experience. Staal knows precisely what he is getting into at this tournament, a significant reason why he will be wearing the captain’s “C” on his jersey.
Staal wasn’t just a role player in Vancouver either, recording six points in seven games. He was an essential piece on that roster, but he wasn’t the centre of attention on it. That honour went to players such as Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews. This time around, he will be the centre of attention, and he is more prepared than anyone to take on that responsibility.
Canada didn’t just walk through that tournament a breeze. They lost to Team USA in the round-robin and surrendered a 2-0 lead to them in the gold medal game. However, as we all know, they battled through it all, and the result was Crosby’s “Golden Goal” in overtime giving Team Canada the gold medal.
Staal likely could have returned to the NHL before the Olympics, as rumours about him signing with a team after the Olympics seem to keep coming up. However, it was clear he wanted to wear the red and white once again, after being a late cut for Sochi in 2014. He signed an AHL contract with the Iowa Wild to showcase he is still in game shape, which he certainly was by recording five points in four games.
Related: 2022 Men’s Olympic Hockey Team Canada Final Roster
Overall, Shane Doan and the management group must be thrilled to bring Eric Staal with them to Beijing to compete. His experience, both in the NHL and international play, and the legacy he left behind, will reap its benefits as the leader of this Team Canada as they strive for Gold in Beijing. With it, Staal’s legacy in hockey will continue to be written.