In a conference call Tuesday with reporters, Eric Staal said his return to Raleigh this week to face the Carolina Hurricanes would be emotional and a bit surreal, much like his sudden parting from the team last month.
But Staal also has written a testimonial for The Players’ Tribune, a personal thank-you note to the Carolina Hurricanes organization and Hurricanes fans.
“As we go our separate ways, I want to express nothing but gratitude to the Carolina Hurricanes for everything they’ve done for me,” Staal wrote. “From the fans to the players to people working in the meal room, thank you so much. … I may play for New York now, but Carolina is always going to feel like home.”
The Hurricanes traded Staal to the New York Rangers on Feb. 28, a day before the NHL trade deadline. The Canes and Rangers play Thursday at PNC Arena, and Staal, the Canes’ former captain, will be honored by a team that drafted him in 2003 and won the Stanley Cup in 2006 with Staal as one of its playoff stars.
Staal was 21 when the Canes won the Cup, one of the young guys in the Carolina room. He was named captain in January 2010, succeeding Rod Brind’Amour.
“One day I blinked, and suddenly I was the veteran in the locker room,” he wrote. “I was the person sitting with the kids who had just been drafted, showing them the things that Ron (Francis), Rod and all the other guys had taught me.
“That transition is kind of weird because you don’t really see it happening. But what you learn is that these lessons passed down by older players aren’t given, they’re loaned. Time passes by in an instant, and suddenly you’re an established NHL player watching a young kid making the same mistake you did when you were his age. So you tell him the same thing that was told to you, and the cycle continues.”
With Carolina, Staal was able to play with younger brother, Jordan Staal, who came to the Canes in a June 2012 trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins. At times, the two were on the same line or power-play unit.
“Sometimes I’d look up and I’d see my younger brother waiting for a pass and in that brief second, I’d just have to pinch myself,” Eric Staal wrote. “Never ever in a million years did I think I’d be so fortunate as to celebrate goals with him in the NHL. We’re just the kids of a couple of sod farmers who love hockey. Playing in this league is an incredibly special honor. But being able to do it with the people closest to you is something else entirely. I’ll always be thankful for that opportunity.”