early," Henry said in August of the Sutter comparisons as his Ford pickup
rattled over fields of Kentucky bluegrass on his sod farm. "If all four
become established NHL players, and I'm sitting home with four games on (the
satellite) one night, then maybe I'll think, Wow. But for now the emotions for
us are the same as they were when Eric was 13, Marc 11, Jordan 10 and Jared 8.
You're happy when they do well, disappointed for them when their team loses or
they have a bad game. It's exactly the same, except now they're making a living
pays better than farming, at least when their father was doling out the cash.
Henry taught each of his sons how to drive a tractor, at two miles per hour,
and to roll sod when they were six or seven. Pay began at $5 an hour and rose
by a dollar each year. Eventually the boys would train for two hours in the
morning, then put in a day of carrying or laying sod. Now they're generally
excused from farmwork, but Jared and Jordan, Mr. High-First-Rounder, helped out
this summer. "These kids identify with the family's common good,"
Renney says, "which bodes well for the NHL teams that have them."
Beyond learning a
family business started by Henry's father, John, the life lesson of hard work
coupled with tangible reward was instilled early. "Not that sod farming's
bad," Jordan said. "But playing hockey, something you love, is a lot
better than working in [100�] weather every day in the summer."
Henry and Linda
didn't raise fools. Just unassuming sons. They tore up the basement by shooting
pucks off the insulation, but there was no over-the-top rambunctiousness. The
last time anyone can remember a full-scale outbreak of sibling rivalry was 10
years ago when Jordan scored a goal and Marc took exception by slugging him.
Each seems as delighted by his brothers' accomplishments as by his own.
Eric and Jordan
had a face-off against each other on Oct. 14, when they met professionally for
the first time, a draw in the Pittsburgh zone. As they hunched over before the
puck was dropped, the linesman said, "We're going to slow this down so
somebody can take pictures." Eric then challenged his brother, "This is
for a Gatorade." Eric won the draw, and when the brothers met in a corridor
of Mellon Arena after the 5--1 Carolina win--Eric scored 2:24 into the
match--Jordan forked over a sports drink. The Staals are not big on what they
call "newspaper quotes" or, for that matter, "quotes" of any
kind. When Eric, who'd had a playoff point streak of 15 games last spring but
had gone seven games without a goal, was interrogated about his slump after
Game 3 of the final against the Edmonton Oilers, he ladled out platitudes in a
monotone. He let two goals and three assists in Games 4 and 5 answer more
When the brothers
find themselves in uncomfortable situations, they grow so quiet you might guess
they were raised by the deer that amble through Sunshine Sod Farm. Their
humility seems as matter-of-fact as their stickhandling. "We taught them
that they weren't better than anyone else," Linda said. "Just that
everyone has different gifts, and their gift maybe is hockey."
A sign at the
Thunder Bay airport congratulates Eric on winning the Stanley Cup. This is,
indisputably, cool. Maybe not as cool as the homage to Thunder Bay's most
famous son, Paul Shaffer ( David Letterman's bandleader has a street named for
him), but a worthy tribute in a town that ditched Canada to pull for Carolina
in the finals.
Thunder Bay is
not a city as much as a fiefdom of 120,000 at the head of Lake Superior,
connected to the wider world in almost random ways. If you make a left out of
Sunshine Sod Farm, then a quick right up an unpaved road to Highway 61, you
have a few options. You can drive west eight hours to Winnipeg, east seven
hours to Sault Ste. Marie, south 3 1/2 hours across the border to Duluth or six
to Minneapolis. In other words, you do not leave Thunder Bay on a whim. This is
a self-contained world with a university, a brawny port, a famous land
formation known as the Sleeping Giant, road signs that warn about moose at
night, and hockey, a game--an ethos--that connects the disparate dots at the
how many people play here," said Henry, a forward with a big heart and
mediocre hands at local Lakehead University in the late '70s and early '80s.
"Even guys my age still play scrub hockey."
"Here you all
grow up with the same dream, playing in a Game 7 and winning the Stanley
Cup," Eric said. "And I did it."