PITTSBURGH – Mom doesn’t like it but she better get used it. It won’t be the last time two Staal brother face off in the NHL playoffs.
The next two weeks won’t be fun for Linda Staal, two of her sons, Jordan and Marc, battling it out with so much at stake. Dad? Henry Staal is ok with it.
“He thinks it’s pretty cool but my mom doesn’t like it very much,” Marc Staal said Friday after the pre-game skate. “She hates it I think.”
So much so, it appears, that plans to come and watch the boys in the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins were scrapped. At least for now.
“They’re staying home,” reported Marc, a rookie defenceman with the Rangers. “They were thinking they would come in for this but then they just said it would be too hard to sit in the stands and watch. So they’re going to hide in their basement.”
At least at home in Thunder Bay, Ont., mother Staal can leave the room if she can’t take it anymore. Of course, she’s seen Marc and Jordan go at it in the post-season before. A few years back Marc’s Sudbury Wolves and Jordan’s Peterborough Petes met in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs. And they didn’t shy away from finding each other on the ice.
“He ended up smoking me at centre ice,” recalls Jordan, a sophomore centre with the Penguins.
“They swept us in the playoffs but I had one pretty good hit on him,” said Marc. “He cut to the middle, tried to toe-drag me a little bit, I caught him pretty good. I have a pretty good picture of it, too. It’s a good memory.”
That was junior, this is the NHL. They’ve never met with this much on the line. But Jordan thinks it will be fine.
“It’s your brother,” he said. “You want to end his season, you don’t want him to end yours. It’s going to be a battle, but we’re still going to be brothers afterward. It’s not going to change much. I think it should be a lot of fun.”
Another brother, Carolina Hurricanes star centre Eric Staal, is also pumped up about his brothers squaring off.
“I sent them both a text today and said, ‘Put on a good show. Good luck,”‘ Eric Staal said Friday after practice in Quebec City with Team Canada. “It won’t be so fun for my parents but for me to sit back and just enjoy them competing in that high level of competition is pretty neat.”
He said while he’s got used to playing against his brothers, the playoffs are a different deal.
“It’s that much higher,” said Eric. “At the end of the series one guy’s going home. That’s the toughest part.”
Eric is the oldest of the clan at 23 but people often mistake the rest of the hierarchy. Jordan, contrary to what is often reported, is not older than Marc. The Ranger is 21, the Penguin is 19. There’s a year and half between them. But the confusion comes from Jordan making the NHL at 18 last season while Marc went back for another year of junior.
“When I first was in New York this year and played my first game against Pittsburgh, everybody thought I was younger than he was,” said Marc. “I set that straight. But yeah, a lot of people make the mistake because he jumped in so early.”
Like the rest of the family, Marc was impressed at his younger brother’s rookie season.
“I knew that he had the size and skill set to make it,” said Marc. “I was kind of surprised when he scored 30 goals, to be honest, but he’s a great player. I wasn’t surprised he made it.”
Defencemen traditionally take longer to develop so it’s not out of the ordinary for Marc, taken 12th overall in the 2005 entry draft, to have taken longer to join his brothers in the NHL. He made up for lost time with an impressive rookie season, averaging just under 19 minutes a game over 80 games. That jumped to an average of 22:45 – second on the team – in the first round of the playoffs.
“The sky’s the limit for Marc,” Rangers head coach Tom Renney said Friday. “I think he’s one of those kids that will play this game for a long, long time because of his demeanour and intelligence.”
Veteran Rangers blue-liner Paul Mara echoed his coach’s comment.
“Unbelievable,” said Mara. “Not only as a player but as a person he’s grown immensely this year. On the ice, I personally think he’s the best rookie defenceman in the league. And he’s only going to get better, he’ll be a mainstay here in New York. And I think people around the league are starting to recognize that he’s one heck of a player.
“Off the ice, he was a quiet, shy kid coming in. Now he’s one of the guys talking to everyone and joking around, it’s unbelievable the transformation he’d made. It’s great.”
Plus, Mara added, he thinks the Rangers did OK with the Staal they got.
“We got the better-looking Staal on our team,” Mara said with a laugh.
– with files from Chris Johnston in Quebec City