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November Issue Highlights

November 1, 2004
Lock Monters Forward's Career Not Staal-ed

By Mike Scandura

Lowell forward Eric Staal in action last season with the Carolina Hurricanes (Photo by Getty Images)

Saying Lowell's Eric Staal has come a long way since he was on his father's sod farm in Thunder Bay, Ontario is like saying the NHL owners and the NHLPA have a "mild" disagreement.

The Carolina Hurricanes made Staal, a center who turned 20 on Oct. 29, the second overall pick in the 2003 Entry Draft. As the saying goes, the rest is history.

Not only did Staal amass 11-20-31 totals in 81 games as a rookie while jumping from the OHL, he was also one of 22 players selected for the 2004 Young Stars Game.

When the lockout hit, Staal skated to Lowell rather than remain idle. Through Oct. 31, Staal led the Lock Monsters with 4-6-10 totals in seven games.

"I haven't approached things differently because it's still nice to be playing hockey," Staal said in response to a question. "Obviously, I'd rather be playing in the NHL right now. But it's part of the business. I was in the players association last year and I'm in full support of the union.

"We have a good team here and hopefully we'll win some games."

In retrospect, Staal's future was preordained. His father, Henry, played at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. Staal grew up playing with his brothers, Marc and Jordan (who are in the OHL), plus Jared (who's in high school) and cousin Jeff Heerema who's with Manitoba.

"Obviously, dad got us into the sport," said Staal. "I started skating when I was four or five. I loved the game after that but he left it up to us. We didn't put any pressure on each other and he didn't put any pressure on us. We just went out to play because we enjoyed it."

Staal certainly enjoyed playing on a rink his father built out of particle boards (i.e. plywood made out of compressed wood) between the family home and that of his uncle, Gary Staal. And then Henry Staal used a neighbor's septic tank truck to steam clean it and lay down ice. Eventually, Staal the elder installed lights, which meant the brothers could play 24/7.

"We started without boards when I was six or seven and the rink gradually got better as the years went on," recalled Staal. "Obviously, it played a huge part (in his development). Any time you can be on ice practicing skills it's going to benefit your game.

"We played all the time, two on two and against each other. We played a lot of games and a lot of sticks went flying around the rink."

Watching Staal fly around the rink is a joy for Lowell and Carolina. His creativity is attributed to his on-ice vision, his stick handling and his skating. And the fact he added 18 pounds to his 6-3 frame, and now weighs 200, has increased his strength.

Despite all he's accomplished, Staal feels he isn't the object of every enforcer's attention.

"I really haven't noticed it yet," he said. "Obviously, it's stuff that you don't want to be thinking about. You want to stay focused and help the team win games."
So far, that's exactly what he's doing.

Around the AHL

Manchester (7-0-0) is the AHL's dominant team right now. The Monarchs' latest conquest was a 3-0 romp over Portland on Oct. 31, as goalie Mathieu Garon (4-0-0) made 31 saves. Tom Kostopoulos notched his sixth two-point game for the Monarchs who've outscored their opponents 34-10. In their previous game, the Monarchs beat Springfield 4-2 as Brad Smyth and Mike Cammalleri recorded three points apiece. …

The AHL suspended Providence forward Brendan Walsh (Dorchester, Mass.) for four games commencing Oct. 29 due to his participation in a fight versus Lowell on Oct. 22.

Dominic Moore (Harvard University) and Jed Ortmeyer scored in a 67-second span in the third period as Hartford beat Lowell, 3-1, on Oct. 29. …

Rookie D.J. King scored his first pro goal (which proved to be the game-winner) as Worcester iced Providence, 5-2, on Oct. 29. …

Brown University grad Yann Danis was 4-1-0 with a 1.76 GAA following Hamilton's 3-2 overtime victory versus Syracuse on Oct. 30. …

Goalie Curtis Sanford is off to a flying start for the IceCats with a 5-1-0 record and a 1.50 GAA through Oct. 31.

Mike Scandura covers the AHL for New England Hockey Journal and hockeyjournal.com. He can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.

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