RALEIGH — Eric Staal's house in North Raleigh has been overflowing with Staal men this week.
Eric's father, Henry, has been in town visiting all week. Then came the brothers.
Marc Staal, a defenseman with the New York Rangers, was at the house Wednesday night and again Thursday. Jordan Staal, a center with the Pittsburgh Penguins, dropped by Friday for dinner.
The Staals are a tight-knit family and the brothers are especially close. Eric, the captain of the Carolina Hurricanes, says nothing comes between them, even a hockey play last season that had a seismic effect within the NHL considering the two players involved.
Marc suffered a concussion in the Feb. 22 game at the RBC Center after taking a big hit along the boards from Eric. Marc has not played this season because of post-concussion symptoms, but has begun some light skating and believes he will play again at some point this season. "He's way better than he has been," Eric said Friday. "It's nice to see him making progress. There's still a ways to go but he's definitely on the right path and it's good to see."
That Eric's hit caused Marc's concussion is not in question. But Marc received medical clearance and returned after missing three games. He was in the Rangers' lineup for five Stanley Cup playoff games.
Before Carolina's Nov. 11 road game against the Rangers, Eric faced a barrage of questions from the New York media about the hit, about Marc's struggles. With much of the blame seemingly being directed at Eric, former Canes coach Paul Maurice defended him, saying, "It was a clean hit and his brother came back and played. So for me, (Eric's) not the reason there's a concussion."
'Not one for making excuses'
Henry Staal said he would not fault Marc for wanting to play or the Rangers for allowing his son to play after a concussion.
"I'm not a doctor, so I have no idea what was the right thing and the wrong thing," Henry Staal said. "It obviously had something to do with it, I assume, but whether (the post-concussion symptoms) continued on because of that, who knows."
Marc, 24, began experiencing headaches and fatigue in his summer workouts, and the problems continued into training camp. In the second week of October, Staal saw Robert Cantu, a concussion specialist in Boston who advised ending all physical activity for a month.
"The first couple of weeks were pretty miserable, but I saw some improvement the third and fourth weeks from just resting," said Staal, who was cleared for physical activity two weeks ago.
Eric had a slow start this season, and it has been tempting to say his brother's absence from the game bothered him and affected his production. He disagrees and his father doesn't buy it, either.
"He feels worse than anybody about the injury," Henry Staal said. "I honestly think - and he said it, too - once he gets out on the ice, it doesn't have any effect.
"It's not because he's not worried about (Marc) or concerned about him. That's the furthest thing from the truth. But I think that would be an excuse Eric would not want to make. Eric's not one for making excuses."
Patience a virtue
Eric will go into tonight's game against the Penguins with a modest three-game point streak. He had a pair of assists Thursday against the Rangers, albeit in a 5-3 loss that pushed Carolina's winless streak to five games.
"We're setting up and controlling the puck a lot better," Staal said of the Canes. "I definitely feel more comfortable and confident out there."
While Marc didn't play Thursday, Eric will have to deal with Jordan at times tonight against the Pens (15-7-4).
"Jordan's is a good defensive forward who is very good positionally, and he can make you pay," Eric said.
So can the Pens' Sidney Crosby, who is playing again after his long recovery from a concussion. Crosby has urged Marc to be patient and take things slowly.
Henry said he will make one other stop this week before returning home to Thunder Bay, Ontario. He's going to Charlotte on Sunday to see Jared Staal, the youngest of the four brothers at 21, play for the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL.
"All of us in same state in the same week is pretty cool," Eric Staal said, smiling.