Jordan Staal says it will be weird facing old team

calexander@newsobserver.comFebruary 27, 2013 

CANESTB20.SP.022313nosell.CCS

The Canes Jordan Staal (11) drives against the Lightning's Martin St. Louis (26) during the second period of an NHL game played between the Carolina Hurricanes and the at the Tampa Bay Lightning at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. on Feb. 23, 2013. Tampa Bay beat Carolina 5-2.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com

Jordan Staal said it will be weird facing the Pittsburgh Penguins.

To which Brandon Sutter added, “Weird for both of us.”

For the past six seasons, Staal was in Pittsburgh. The rugged center wore No. 11, helping the Pens win the 2009 Stanley Cup and becoming a big part of the Steel City community.

Sutter was with the Carolina Hurricanes the past four seasons. He was the lean kid, No. 16,. playing a tough, smart game at center and becoming a favorite among Canes fans.

On June 22, 2012, everything changed. On Staal’s wedding day, he was traded to the Hurricanes. Sutter, in turn, went to the Pens as an integral part of the trade.

On Thursday night, they come together again. The Canes host the Pens in something of a hockey reunion, bringing Sutter back to PNC Arena for the first time while Staal competes against his former team.

“It’s going to be awkward,” Sutter said Wednesday. “It will be different at first but once we get into the game, I can just keep it simple and play my game.

“It’s been on my mind and I’m looking forward to seeing some of my old buddies. But it will be good to get through it and get it over with. Hopefully things will go well.”

It has already been an interesting week for the Hurricanes. On Tuesday, Alexander Semin returned to Washington and the Verizon Center for the first time after playing the past seven seasons for the Caps.

It was not a satisfying or successful homecoming for Semin, who signed a one-year contract with Carolina in July. The Canes lost 3-0. But Semin was able to see some of his former teammates, including close friend Alexander Ovechkin.

Now, it’s Staal’s turn. And Sutter’s.

"It’s going to be fun," Staal said. "Obviously I was (in Pittsburgh) for a long time and I have a lot of fond memories with that organization. I’ve seen it a lot, being in Pittsburgh and seeing other guys (leave). Now to be on the other side is a little different.

“It’s just going to be fun to play against those guys and just try to beat them."

As happy as he was to have the Canes trade for his brother, Canes captain Eric Staal was sad to see Sutter leave. Eric Staal often has said Sutter was like another brother to him.

Like Jordan Staal, Sutter is 24. He sat next to Eric Staal in the PNC Arena locker room.

"He definitely was as close to a brother as I could have,” Eric Staal said. “I kind of watched him grow his first couple of years in the league. We would have loved to have been able to keep him but you have to give a little bit to get good, and we definitely gave up a good player in Brandon."

Sutter, 24, said the season has “gone pretty well” for him with his new team. With center Evgeni Malkin out with a concussion, he may be asked to shoulder more of the offensive load.

“There were a lot of adjustments at first and the first few games I was thinking too much,” said Sutter, who has four goals and four assists in 20 games. “It’s coming more natural to me now.”

When the trade was announced June 22, several of the Pens players were in Thunder Bay, Ont., for Jordan Staal’s wedding, creating a surreal feeling. Staal said he has talked to quite a few of the Pens players since then, noting there were other weddings to attend.

"We were able to hang out, and I’ve kept in pretty good contact with a lot of guys there," he said.

Jordan signed a 10-year contract extension – a long-term commitment to being a part of the Canes. The combination of Jordan and Eric Staal has given Carolina added strength up the middle on the top two lines, and Jordan has four goals and 11 assists in 18 games..

"Obviously any time you come from an organization after a long period of a time it’s a bit of an adjustment. But I think it’s been pretty seamless for him," Eric Staal said. "He’s a smart hockey player, he knows the game. He will be a big part of this team for a long time.

"It’s been fun. After games we can leave together, talk about the game. Before we used to be talking about his game and my game. Now we’re talking about it together. It’s fun to be able to have those conversations with your brother. It’s been pretty cool having him on the team."

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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