RALEIGH — For the first time since the World Championship in May, Eric Staal and Alexander Edler will share a sheet of ice Sunday as the Carolina Hurricanes face the Vancouver Canucks at PNC Arena.
But Staal, the Canes’ captain, said he isn’t interested in retribution.
“Not for me. That’s not who I am or what I’m about,” Staal said.
While competing for Canada at the 2013 World Championship in Stockholm, Staal took a hard knee-on-knee hit from Edler, a Canucks defenseman who was playing for the Swedish national team. Staal suffered a third-degree sprain of the right medial collateral ligament on a play the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) later ruled was reckless and dangerous. Edler was suspended for the remainder of the tournament.
The injury didn’t require surgery, but Staal faced months of intense rehabilitation. In June, after modeling the Canes’ new-look jersey at PNC Arena, Staal said the hit by Edler was not a clean one.
Staal said Friday that Edler never personally contacted him but did “reach out” to Dan Hamhuis, a Canucks teammate and defenseman on Team Canada, immediately after the May 16 game.
“He told Dan it wasn’t his intention to hit me like that,” Staal said. “That’s fine.”
The Canes’ Jordan Staal also was on Team Canada with his brother and was on the bench when the play occurred. He said seeing Eric down on the ice, grabbing the knee and in severe pain, was a scary moment.
“Obviously we were thinking the worse,” Jordan said. “I think he was fortunate to come out of it with the MCL. It looked bad and was something you don’t want to see.”
At the same time, Jordan Staal said Eric never dwelled on Edler or the hit during the offseason. There was no circling of the date when the Canucks would be coming to Raleigh.
“Not really,” Jordan said. “I mean, he wasn’t happy with the hit. But I think it was more or less forgive-and-forget after a while and I think he’s moved on.”
Eric Staal, as he promised in June, was ready for the start of the Canes’ training camp in September. He noted then that he was not wearing a knee brace and the knee was fully healed.
But the start of the regular season was not what Staal wanted. In the Canes’ first 18 games, he had three goals and six assists and a minus-9 rating. There was little explosiveness in his game.
In mid-November, Staal’s play improved. His skating stride stronger, he put together a seven-game point streak that ended Friday in the Canes’ 5-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils.
“I think he’s starting to get his swagger back,” Jordan Staal said. “I think he’s definitely starting to be more confident with the puck and making plays. He’s really starting to play the way he can.”
Eric Staal smiled when asked about the “swagger” part but didn’t disagree with his brother’s assessment.
“I think a couple of weeks ago I started to gain confidence in all the little things and slowly have it all come together,” he said. “I had a little more jump, a little more pace, a little more tempo to my game. Those are all the little things that make me successful and it’s been better here of late.”
As for Sunday’s game, the Canes (10-11-5) will be looking to rebound from the loss to New Jersey and likely will remain without defenseman Andrej Sekera, who has an upper-body injury. It also will be center Manny Malhotra’s first game against the Canucks, his former team.
“I’m focused on the two points and helping us win,” Eric Staal said. “I’m excited for Manny and the opportunity he has to show how good he has been for us. That should be fun.”
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