Canes rely on Staal power

Jordan Staal adds his size and skills to brother Eric’s as the Canes dream of another Stanley Cup

calexander@newsobserver.comJanuary 18, 2013 

  • More information NHL careers Jordan Staal Regular season Playoffs Year Team GP G A Pt PIM GP G A PT PIM 2006-2007 Pittsburgh Penguins 81 29 13 42 24 5 3 0 3 2 2007-2008 Pittsburgh Penguins 82 12 16 28 55 20 6 1 7 14 2008-2009 Pittsburgh Penguins 82 22 27 49 37 24 4 5 9 8 2009-2010 Pittsburgh Penguins 82 21 28 49 57 11 3 2 5 6 2010-2011 Pittsburgh Penguins 42 11 19 30 24 7 1 2 3 2 2011-2012 Pittsburgh Penguins 62 25 25 50 34 6 6 3 9 2 Totals 431 120 128 248 231 73 23 13 36 33 Eric Staal 2003-2004 Carolina Hurricanes 81 11 20 31 40 2005-2006 Carolina Hurricanes 82 45 55 100 81 25 9 19 28 8 2006-2007 Carolina Hurricanes 82 30 40 70 68 2007-2008 Carolina Hurricanes 82 38 44 82 50 2008-2009 Carolina Hurricanes 82 40 35 75 50 18 10 5 15 4 2009-2010 Carolina Hurricanes 70 29 41 70 68 2010-2011 Carolina Hurricanes 81 33 43 76 72 2011-2012 Carolina Hurricanes 82 24 46 70 48 Totals 642 250 324 574 477 43 19 24 43 12

— Eric and Jordan Staal will never agree on the winner of the big fight.

Eric Staal says he got in the heaviest blows, and finished with Jordan in a headlock. Jordan slyly notes that his big brother was the one with the bloody nose when it ended.

Yes, it was quite the pillow fight.

"A pretty good battle," Jordan Staal says, laughing. "A lot of feathers flying."

It’s on YouTube. The two really go at it in the NHL promo from 2007.

"But the two of us are extremely competitive in all things," Eric Staal says. "It doesn’t matter what it is."

For the past six seasons, the two have dueled each other in the NHL – Eric with the Carolina Hurricanes, Jordan with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both played in the Eastern Conference, meaning four games a season. Eric wore No. 12 for the Canes, Jordan No. 11 for the Pens.

Both won Stanley Cups. Both always wondered what it might be like to win another one – together.

"You talk all your life and a lot of time it revolves around hockey because that’s what you do," Eric says. "We’d talked about certain scenarios that may or could happen."

Asked if any of those scenarios began, "OK, it’ll be Jordan’s wedding day, and he’ll be traded to Carolina and ..." Eric is the one who’s left laughing.

"No, nothing like that," he says. "But just the way it went down, it’s pretty cool the way it all worked out."

Jordan Staal was traded on his wedding day – June 22, 2012. He was surrounded by Pens teammates back home in Thunder Bay, Ont., when he was told Pittsburgh had dealt him to Carolina.

"There was a hush all around the reception hall. It was definitely a shock," says Jared Staal, the youngest of the four Staal brothers.

So here they are, in January, and Eric and Jordan have yet to play a game together for Carolina because of the NHL lockout. That will change Saturday, when the Hurricanes finally open the season on the road against the Florida Panthers.

"There will be emotion, no question," Jordan Staal says. "It’s been a long time since the guys have been in a game, under the lights."

The lockout made for a lot of skates for the Staals at Raleigh Center Ice, where they’d often be the last two Canes off the ice, and moments when they wondered if their first NHL season together might have to wait until the fall of 2013.

At times, Eric’s wife, Tanya, would drop by RCI with their two sons – Parker, 3, and Levi, 1. The boys would hop around Jordan’s legs, to them as huge as redwoods.

"They’ll get to grow up with Uncle Jordan around," Eric says. "That will be fun."

Jordan Staal, 24, signed a 10-year contract extension with the Canes in July, soon after the trade, so he will be around. He and his wife, Heather, live not far from Eric and Tanya. A third brother, Marc, is a defenseman for the New York Rangers and Jared is in the Canes’ organization and plays for the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL.

"There should be a lot of family to come in and hang out," Eric Staal says.

The Staals would love to have family come in for the Stanley Cup playoffs this year. The Hurricanes have not been since 2009, when they reached the Eastern Conference finals and were swept by the Penguins as Eric and Jordan exchanged a handshake after the series that was tough for both but a lot tougher for one than the other.

"You’ve gotten used to seeing Jordan with the Pittsburgh colors on. To see him with a Carolina sweater is a little different," Jared Staal says.

The Canes not only traded for Jordan Staal but went deep into their pockets to sign free-agent forward Alexander Semin to a one-year, $7 million contract. They also added defenseman Joe Corvo, who also signed a one-year deal and returned to the Hurricanes after a season with the Boston Bruins.

Corvo has battled Jordan Staal for years. He has a good feel for the skills and ability of the 6-foot-4, 220-pound center, a veritable linebacker on skates who is one of the NHL’s best two-way forwards.

"Jordie and Eric, it’s almost like they’re one in how big they are, their reach," Corvo says. "It’s just a nightmare to play against. Jordie is a super smart player, the way he anticipates. He almost knows what you’re going to do with the puck before you do."

And there’s that size factor. Canes coach Kirk Muller wanted more size in the lineup and Jordan Staal gives him that.

"He’s at least 20 pounds bigger than Eric," Corvo says, looking across the locker room at Jordan. "He’s Eric on steroids."

Corvo grins, quickly adding, "Figuratively speaking, that is."

Eric Staal, 28, is the Canes’ team captain. Jordan Staal will wear an "A" as an alternate captain, replacing center Brandon Sutter, who went to Pittsburgh as part of the big trade.

On the day after the trade, Pens coach Dan Bylsma appeared to choke up a bit when asked about losing Jordan. He talked of how Jordan had taken on more of a leadership role, accepted more offensive responsibility, after injuries to Pens stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

"He’s a really good person. It was a pleasure to have coached him," Bylsma said.

Now, it’s Muller’s turn. He’ll be able to coach both Jordan and Eric Staal, saying he expects the two to push each other, perhaps inspire each other.

A hip injury to forward Tuomo Ruutu likely means the Staals won’t play on the same line in this shortened NHL season. They’ll each center lines, giving Muller and the Canes real strength down the middle.

"I think it’s going to be a healthy competition between the two," Muller says. "Eric is competitive and it’s human nature – everybody needs to be challenged. That they’re brothers adds to that element.

"I think it will be good for Eric to have another power forward in the lineup. There will be a battle for certain roles at certain times. Who takes a key faceoff, things like that. I think it will bring out the best in both of them. It has to be very positive energy when you have two of your best players excited about playing together."

They’re excited. They won’t sit side-by-side in the Canes’ newly renovated locker room at PNC Arena – "He doesn’t want me that close to him all the time," Jordan jokes – but they will see enough of each other.

Eric Staal also says Canes fans may come to see the brother he has known, the big man with a gentle side.

"He’s easy going but also has that determination," Eric says. "He’s always been big. He likes to eat. You have to feed the machine. But he’s a good person and deep down has a really, really, really good heart.

“He’s someone that cares for you. That’s one thing I love about him, his care."

That’s a brotherly word – "love” – and it is a strong bond the Staal brothers, all of them, share. It’s something instilled by their parents, Henry and Linda, all those years ago in Thunder Bay.

And that competiveness. Jared Staal says the four had "typical brother battles" and Jordan says Linda Staal was the one who kept elbows or sticks from being thrown at each other.

"It got a little heated but my mom kept us in line," Jordan says.

But Eric and Jordan still find ways to go at it.

"I’m the better golfer," Eric says flatly. "In golf, I have had the upper hand for a lot of years. His excuse is that I lived here. Now he’s living here. He actually beat me a few times, so ..."

Sounds like they may need to pull out the pillows again.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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