Recently I was able to obstruct Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal long enough to ask him a few questions about his life away from the ice. Staal is a 24-year-old center from Thunder Bay, Ontario, in his fifth NHL season (all with Carolina). He was drafted second overall in 2003 behind goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh) and in just his second season in the NHL, Eric led all players in playoff scoring (and assists) with 28 points (9g-19a), helping the Hurricanes to capture the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in just their ninth season since moving to North Carolina from Hartford. That season he led the ‘Canes in goals (45), assists (55), points (100) and shots (279) and his 100 points ranked sixth in the NHL and made him the first player in franchise history to top the century mark. Eric was also the first of four brothers to be drafted to the NHL (Marc — NY Rangers 2005, Jordan — Pittsburgh 2006 and Jared — Phoenix 2008). This season through 81 games, Staal has tallied 75 points (40g-35a), which is tied for the team lead with Ray Whitney, and leads the ‘Canes in goals, power play goals (14), game-winning goals (8) and shots on goal (368). So who is Eric Staal off the ice? Read on:
Dan Rice: What do you remember about your first NHL goal?
Eric Staal: It was in Boston, on a 2-on-1 with Jeff O’Neill. He made a great pass, we kind of had the goalie (Andrew Raycroft) down-and-out and I was able to pretty much put it into an empty net.
DR: Do you still have the puck?
ES: I have the puck on a plaque with a picture of me shooting it into the goal, so it’s pretty cool.
DR: Do you have a pre-game routine?
ES: Just the same routine every time. I usually get to the rink, have a shower, then get dressed and work on my sticks. Then we have our meetings and we play a little soccer usually, then get dressed for the game and go to warm-ups on the ice.
DR: Who is your roommate on the road and how are they?
ES: Ryan Bayda and he’s pretty good, we have some fun. He’s a guy that during the lockout, I lived with in the minors, so I know him quite well. We’ve gotten to know each other fairly well so it’s been good.
DR: During the NHL lockout, you spent the entire season with Lowell in the AHL, how much did that help your game grow?
ES: It was a good place for me to play. I got to play to play a lot of minutes coming off my first year in the NHL as an 18-year-old. (In Carolina) I just wasn’t playing in as many situations (short-handed, power play) and those clutch situations. I got to go down there and play in all of those situations. I think it just (helped) build my confidence and gave me that experience to bring it to the next level and I was able to do that the next year.
DR: What is in your suitcase on a road trip?
ES: A couple of books, my laptop, shorts and t-shirt, sometimes some trunks for a hot tub and then my toiletry case, that’s about it. I travel light.
DR: What do you remember about your day with the Stanley Cup?
ES: It was awesome; it went so fast — too fast. I got to share it with a lot of family and friends, my grandparents; I got to share it with my hometown of Thunder Bay. I had a ton of people come to check it out. We had a party at night, which was a lot of fun, with a lot of my buddies. Everybody was drinking out of it. It’s a day that I will never forget.
DR: Did your brothers get to touch it or were they not allowed? (There is a superstition amongst hockey players that forbids them from touching the Cup until they are able to go through the rigors of an NHL player and earn that right.)
ES: They never touched it. Just myself and my parents were the only ones that laid their hands on it. We did take a family picture with it and that was pretty special moment. Hopefully they’ll get their chance someday.
DR: Do you remember what your last job was before you became a pro?
ES: I worked on our sod farm, growing up, since I was about six or seven years old until moving away to play Junior hockey (Peterborough Petes). My dad owns it and we were out in the fields quite often.
DR: Who is your best friend in the NHL?
ES: Hmm, that’s a tough one. I’d say Ryan Bayda or Erik Cole, Andrew Ladd, Cam Ward; probably a toss up between all of those guys.
DR: So, not one of your brothers?
ES: (smirking) No, no we’re in fierce competition.
DR: Who is the biggest joker or prankster on the Hurricanes?
ES: That’d be between Chad Larose and Ray Whitney, they’re pretty funny guys. Ray Whitney got the one-liners and Chad Larose is just a goofball most of the time.
DR: Do you have a favorite TV show?
ES: I watch LOST, I don’t mind it, but it’s getting a little crazy now. Also, Entourage, Sopranos, stuff like that.
DR: What’s your favorite NHL city to play in when you are on the road?
ES: Probably Montreal; I just think it’s a great atmosphere – it’s packed every time, 21,000 people. We usually fair pretty well in that building, it’s one of the best atmospheres in the league.
Despite his superstardom, Eric has remained a down-to-earth guy, and was very generous with his time when we spoke. A lot of NHL players do some great charity work that flies under the radar, so I thought it would be nice to highlight some of the things that they do at the end of these one-on-one interviews and help educate fans why they are not just great players, but awesome people too.
Eric and his wife, Tanya, created Eric’s Entourage to allow non-profit children’s organizations the opportunity to experience a hockey game in a 12 person, all-inclusive luxury suite. Eric personally purchases the suite for each Carolina Hurricanes home game for deserving organizations to enjoy. The organization who gets the privilege of using the suite assumes the role of Eric’s Entourage for the night. They receive gift bags full of Hurricanes treats and an official Eric’s Entourage T-shirt. To learn more about this wonderful charity and all things Carolina Hurricanes, visit hurricanes.nhl.com or click here: http://hurricanes.nhl.com/team/app/?service=page&page=NHLPage&id=27865.
I hope everyone enjoyed learning more about Eric Staal and if there is a player you’d like to read about in a future column or have a specific question you want asked, or want to leave any comments, please feel free let me know:
Dan Rice covers the New Jersey Devils & NHL for NYCSportsnetwork.com & contributes to MaxHockey.com as well as IslesNation.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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