Eric Staal life and biography

Eric Staal picture, image, poster

Eric Staal biography

Date of birth : 1984-10-29
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
Nationality : Canadian
Category : Sports
Last modified : 2010-08-02
Credited as : NHL Ice hockey player, played for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Sudbury Wolves

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Big Brother is watching you. In the case of Mark, Jordan and Jared Staal, he is also skating by you, stickhandling around you, and checking you into the boards. Their oldest sibling, Eric, is the brother in question. A do-it-all center for the Carolina Hurricanes, he is the first of the Staal boys to take the NHL by storm. Not that his rise to the top of the hockey world is surprising. Eric was tabbed for stardom as a kid by Canadian scouts, and in just his second NHL season he drank from the Stanley Cup. In the process, Eric may have caused the most severe case of sibling rivalry hockey has ever seen.

GROWING UP

Eric Staal was born on October 29, 1984 in Thunder Bay, Ontario. His parents, Henry and Linda, welcomed three more boys into world over the next six years. Like their big brother, Marc, Jordan and Jared would develop into NHL stars.

Eric took to the ice for the first time at the age of four. Nothing in his parents’ history—except a tradition of hard work—suggested that he or his brothers were suited for hockey. Henry played as a kid, but his career ended in college. As he liked to say, “I had million-dollars legs and 10-cent hands.”

The Staal boys learned their work ethic on the family’s 500-acre sod farm, which provided grass to customers all over Canada’s middle regions. Summer days began at six in the morning and lasted until sunset. Eric and his brothers were treated like all other employees on the farm. Day after day, they carried and laid heavy rolls of sod. Each knew how to drive a tractor by the time they turned eight. Every week, they filled out time sheets and waited eagerly for payday.

Winter was the time of year Eric got to play. He loved hockey and idolized Wayne Gretzky. His brothers were just as crazy for the sport, and Henry fed their passion by building a 50’ x 100’ rink next to the barn. It included boards and lights for night contests. Eric and his brothers waged rugged battles on the wide-open ice surface. Games usually got rough, but never dirty. The Staals were far more interested in honing their skating and stickhandling skills.

By the time Eric was ready for Canada’s juniors, he was a budding star. He stood taller than six feet, could anticipate plays all over the ice and had a nose for the goal. Though the 16-year-old weighed less than 150 pounds, all signs suggested he would fill out his frame with solid muscle.

Eric joined the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League in the fall of 2000. Over the years, the club had gained the reputation as a hockey factory, producing a long list of NHL stars that included Bob Gainey, Steve Yzerman, Mike Ricci and Chris Pronger. Among the coaches who cut their teeth with Peterborough were Scotty Bowman, Roger Neilson and Mike Keenan.

Eric hoped to be the next Pete to graduate to NHL stardom. The youngster was in good hands with coach Dick Todd, who had reached 500 victories faster than anyone in Major Junior A hockey history. Todd recognized Eric's immense talent immediately, and the teenager adjusted quickly to OHL’s hard-skating style of play. In his rookie campaign, Eric finished third on the team in scoring with 49 points (19 goals, 30 assists).

He also logged valuable ice time in international competition. Eric won a gold medal with Canada’s under-18 team at the 2001 Six Nations Tournament in the Czech Republic, and skated for Team Ontario in the U-17 World Championships in Nova Scotia.

ON THE RISE

Eric continued to mature on and off the ice with the Petes during the 2001-02 season. He averaged more than a point a game, posting 23 goals and 39 assists in 56 games. When the Central Hockey League’s All-Star Weekend rolled around, Eric suited up for the OHL's Eastern Conference squad. His confidence growing, he also served as an alternate captain for the Canadian national team at the U-18 World Championships.

The 2002-03 season proved to be Eric’s breakout campaign. Skating on Peterborough’s top line, he finished seventh in the OHL in scoring with 39 goals and 59 assists. Named a CHL First-Team All-Star, Eric was invited to play in the Home Hardware Top Prospects Game, where he wowed scouts with his conbination of speed, strength and finesse. He was at his best in the OHL playoffs, however, netting nine goals and five assists in just seven games.

Already a highly regarded prospect in the eyes of many NHL clubs, Eric vaulted to the top of most draft charts. In a talent pool that some considered the deepest in two decades, the league’s Central Scouting Service ranked him the #1 player in North America. Eric was one of those rare players who combined skill with a winner’s work ethic. He could domintate a game at any moment, but wasn’t afraid to mix it up in the corners, and also knew he had a lot left to learn on the ice.

The teams with the first two picks in the draft, Pittsburgh and Carolina, had opposite priorities heading into the 2003-04 season. The Penguins were focused on improving in their own end of the ice. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury fit the bill, and the team nabbed him with the top selection overall.

Carolina, meanwhile, breathed a sigh of relief. In need of a playmaking center, the Canes had targeted Eric as their man. When Pittsburgh passed one him, the team wasted no time calling his name.

Eric was just as eager to sign a deal and begin his pro career. His agent, Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, worked out a deal with the Canes, ensuring the rookie would be ready for training camp. As the preseason started, Eric looked un-phased by his new surroundings. He was skating free and easy, meshing well with his teammates, and even led the league with seven goals.

Eric continued to play well once the regular season began. His rookie year started with a bang in Boston, as he scored his first NHL goal with less than two minutes left in the third period to beat the Bruins. He picked up his first assist n the same game, launching a five-game helper streak. In February, Eric was tabbed for the YoungStars Game during the league’s All-Star Weekend. He netted a goal in the first period, as his Eastern Conference squad defeated the West 6-4.

As the campaign progressed, Eric experienced the normal ups and downs of any NHL rookie. The grind of the 80-plus game season took its toll. He had nights when his legs were lively and others when he felt sapped of all his energy. He rushed good scoring opportunities and got caught at times trying to do too much with the puck. Opponents tested him with hard hits in the corners and stick-checks in front of the net. Eric loved every second of it.

While his final numbers (11 goals and 20 assists) didn’t necessarily show it, Eric impressed teammates and opponents alike with his jump from junior hockey to the NHL. Ron Francis helped a lot in easing the rookie’s adjustment to the pro game. From the moment he joined the Canes, Eric had been compared to the 23-year veteran, both for his ability and team-first attitude. Playing in his final season, Francis took Eric under his wing and offered sage advice. “Be consistent every night,” he told Eric time and again.

Eric made another fast friend in Erik Cole. In his third NHL season, Cole was also an excellent role model for Eric. The two roomed together on the road, usually spending their nights watching hockey highlights on ESPN in the their hotel room. Unfortunately, Carolina didn’t make too many of those reels. The Canes finished under .500 with 76 points and failed to qualify for the playoffs.

The 2004-05 campaign turned out to be a lost one for the NHL, but not for Eric. When players and owners coundn't come to a labor agreement, the entire season was cancelled. Like other young stars, Eric didn’t sit idle. He signed a deal with the Lowell Lock Monsters of the American Hockey League, which attracted an impressive collection of NHL veterans looking to stay sharp during the lockout. Eric learned a lot from two Lowell teammates, Chuck Kobesaw and Colin Forbes, particularly when it came to the physical part of the game.

Eric thrilled AHL crowds throughout the year with his creative playmaking. In his one and only season with the Lock Monsters, he set single-season franchise records for points (77), assists (51), plus/minus (+37) and shorthanded goals (7). He also shined in the playoffs, leading the club with 10 points in 11 games.

Eric enjoyed his season with Lowell, but celebrated with the league and fans when the players and owner hammered out a new deal for the 2005-06 season. When he arrived for training camp with the Canes that fall, he took the ice a more confident and tougher player. Eric was 20 pounds heavier, all of it muscle. Knowing what to expect from the NHL, he was ready for the rigors of a full season.

It didn’t take long for Eric to see that fast-paced system of new Carolina coach Peter Laviolette suited his talents perfectly. He broke from the gate on a tear, topping the NHL with 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in October and earning Offensive Player of the Month honors. The Canes followed his lead, jumping out to the fastest start in franchise history with a mark of 9-2-1.

Eric wasn’t the only Carolina player skating well. Captain Rod Brind'Amour provided leadership and scoring, Justin Williams was maturing into a bona fide star, Frantisek Caberle, Bret Hedican and Glen Wesley anchored the blue line, and Martin Gerber and Cam Ward offered a solid one-two punch in goal. Eric’s buddy, Cole, was having an All-Star campaign too.

With an eye toward the playoffs, Carolina swung a deal in January with the St. Louis Blues for Doug Weight. By this point, the Canes had established a comfortable enough lead in the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division. A playoff bid all but assured, the club began preparing for a run at the Stanley Cup.

Carolina’s fortunes—not to mention Eric’s—took a hit in March when Cole was lost to a fractured vertebra in his neck. Without him, the team searched for a way to replace his scoring and grit. Eric, in particular, struggled. A plus-6 with Cole as his right wing, he was a minus-14 in his final 22 games with him out of the lineup.

MAKING HIS MARK

Still, Eric finished the year with record-setting numbers for the Canes. Named club MVP by the Carolina chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he topped the team in goals (45), assists (55), and points (100). In the process, he became the franchise's first player to reach the century mark since John Cullen in 1991. Eric’s standout season also helped the Canes engineer an amazing turnaround. With 112 points, the club won its division easily and entered the playoffs as the East’s #2 seed.

Carolina hardly looked like a Cup contender when the postseason began. The Canes dropped their first two games to the Montreal Canadiens, surrendering six goals in the each contest. Looking for a spark, Laviolette turned to Ward as his starting goalie in Game 3, and the 22-year-old responded with an outstanding effort. Eric also made his first significant contribution, scoring in overtime for a 2-1 victory. Energized by the win, Carolina swept the next three games to set up a showdown with the New Jersey Devils.

Again, Eric netted the biggest goal of the series. After the Canes breezed to a 6-0 win in Game 1, Scott Gomez appeared to give the Devils a victory two nights later with a late third-period goal. Eric stole New Jersey's thunder, however, tying the contest with three seconds left. When Niclas Wallin got the game-winner in OT for Carolina, the Devils was done. The Canes closed out the series in five games, then readied themselves for the Eastern Conference Finals against Buffalo.

The series against the Sabres was a seven-game rollercoaster ride with six contests decided by a single goal. Eric registered a point in each of the first five games, running his franchise-record scoring streak to 15 games. It was the NHL’s longest since Pavel Bure’s 16-gamer in 1994.

Eric’s goal in Game 4 and an assist in Game 5 helped put Carolina in control, but Buffalo rallied to win Game 6 in overtime to force Game 7 at Carolina’s RBC Center. Down 2-1 in the decider heading into the third period, the Canes turned the tables with goals by Mike Commodore, Weight and Williams. With their 4-2 victory, they returned to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in four years.

Carolina’s opponent was the equally surprising Edmonton Oilers. The Canes won the first two games of the series—even though Eric was out of sync and didn't register a point. When Carolina went up three games to one, he still looked lost. He had now gone five straight games without a goal. Eric answered with two goals and an assist in Game 5, but Carolina lost on its home ice in OT. The Oilers kept the momentum on their side with a 4-0 laugher three nights later.

Facing another Game 7 at the RBC Center, the Canes stormed to a 2-0 lead, then held on for a 3-1 victory. Ward was the choice for Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP for his stellar play in goal, but Eric’s performance was not overlooked. With nine goals and 19 assists, he led the NHL in postseason scoring. A month later, the Canes rewarded him with a new three-year contract worth $13.5 million that made him the team's highest-paid player.

Now acknowledged as one of the league’s superstars, Eric is experiencing a different kind of pressure. Before he had to prove he belonged in the NHL. Now he faces two new challenges: making sure he gives a consistent effort night in and night out and handling the extra responsibility of being his team’s go-to guy.

So far in the 2006-07 season Eric has done both. Though his scoring is down a bit, he has been feisty and intense, two of his trademark qualities. And while Brind'Amour still wears the captain’s C in Carolina, Eric has been able to rally the team with his attitude and work ethic. To veterans on the Canes, he might seem like a little brother in years. But in terms of production and energy, he's Carolina's main man.

ERIC THE PLAYER

Eric is one of many NHL stars grateful for the league’s crackdown on clutching and grabbing in the neutral zone. Though he’s big and physical, he is at his best in open ice when he can use his speed, vision and stickhandling skills to his advantage.

While Eric likes to control the puck, he knows how to create space for himself when he doesn’t have it. This, combined with a quick, accurate shot, makes him a dangerous goal scorer. Eric, however, is most dangerous as a playmaker. He is a great passer who regularly sets up teammates with good scoring chances.

Eric is the rare young player who understands his responsibilities on both ends of the ice. While not a grinder, he’s more than willing to mix it up in the corners. Thanks to his long reach and quick hands, he’s also excellent on faceoffs. Not surprisingly, Eric is usually on the ice with the game on the line and his team up by a goal.

Due to his hard work off the ice, Eric thrives the more ice time he gets. He’s particularly effective in the third period. His work ethic and production have earned the respect of his teammates and make him a natural leader.

EXTRAS

# In the spring of 2005, Eric became one of two players in Lowell history to record three assists in a playoff game. The other was Bruno St. Jacques.
# Ericeached the 50-point mark in Carolina's 35th game during the 2005-06 season, tying the franchise record by Mike Rogers in 1980-81.
# Eric scored a hat trick in January of 2006 against the St. Louis Blues. He lost a tooth in the same game. It was also Cap Night in Carolina, so the ice was littered with John Deere hats after Eric’s last goal.
# In the 2005-06 season, Eric became the fifth player in franchise history to reach the 100-point mark.
# Eric's 28 points and 87 shots during the 2006 playoffs were Carolina records.
# Eric's first NHL fight came against Jeff Halpern of the Washington Capitals.
# Eric's nickname among teammates is "Staaly."
# Eric's cousin, Jeff Heerema, was a first round selection of the Hurricanes in 1998 (11th overall).
# Eric's favorite NHL player is Joe Sakic. Other favorites include: "The Simpsons" (TV show), "Meet the Parents" (movie) and Linkin Park (musical group).
# Eric posed for photos for GQ magazine in 2006. At first, those directing the shoot wanted him to shave off his beard. Later, they changed their minds, reasoning he was "a tough hockey player."
# Eric's brothers are all following in his footsteps. Marc was a first-round draft pick of the New York Rangers in 2005. Jordan was picked second in the 2006 NHL Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins. He joined the team for the 2006-07 season. Jared currently plays in the Ontario Hockey League for the Sudbury Wolves.

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