Carolina Hurricanes left wing Cory Stillman scored in overtime on Sunday to
give his team a 4-3 win and a three-games-to-two lead over the dogged Buffalo
Sabres in the Eastern Conference finals, 6'4" Hurricanes center Eric Staal
was addressing reporters in the locker room. At 21 Staal has emerged as a team
leader, the franchise guy around whom Carolina's fortunes will dance for years.
Staal had 100 points in the regular season (45 goals, 55 assists), and he's
carried that success through to his first playoffs, leading all postseason
players at week's end (seven goals, 13 assists). After watching Staal--who had
the overtime winner in Game 3 of the opening round against the Montreal
Canadiens--lead the Hurricanes past his team in six games, Montreal coach Bob
Gainey said he wished he'd kidnapped Staal before the series.
Buffalo must feel the same way. On Sunday, Staal feathered a cross-ice pass to
set up captain Rod Brind'Amour for the game-tying goal, extending Staal's
scoring streak to 15 playoff games, only three shy of Hall of Fame center Bryan
Trottier's alltime record of 18
Still, one win remained before Carolina could advance to face Edmonton in the
Stanley Cup finals, and the youthful Staal, cautiously deflecting praise, spoke
guardedly--that is, until a reporter asked him who used to win the games he
played with his three brothers, Marc, Jordan and Jared, on the backyard rink at
the family farm in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Breaking into a boyish grin, Staal for the first time all night looked his age.
"I don't know what Marc told you," he laughed, "but me and my
youngest brother, Jared, won all the time. Not even close."
Eric is the oldest in the talented Staal clan. Marc, 19, also 6'4", was the
New York Rangers' top draft choice in 2005 (12th overall) and was named the top
defenseman at the world junior championships in January. Six-foot-three Jordan,
17, had 68 points in 68 games playing center for the Peterborough Petes and is
projected to be a top five pick in this month's NHL draft. And Jared, 15, who
will play next season for the Sudbury Wolves, is already 6'2" and 170
pounds, two inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than Eric was at that age.
They've drawn comparisons with Alberta's famous Sutter brothers, six of whom
played in the NHL at the same time.
The Staals grew up playing on the 50-by-100-foot rink their father, Henry,
built on his sod farm, complete with boards and lights, to save them from
couch-potatodom. Henry borrowed a friend's septic-cleaning truck to flood the
rink with pond water, and from late November until early March the four boys
honed their skills in two-on-two games. Eric says he modeled himself "after
guys like Mike Modano and Joe Nieuwendyk, who played the game with size and
speed and strength."
Chosen second in the 2003 draft by Carolina, Staal added 20 pounds of muscle
during the lockout season while playing for the Lowell Lock Monsters in the
AHL, so that now, at 205, with his mobility and octopuslike reach, he's very
difficult to knock off the puck. "This is just a continuation of what he
did in the regular season," says Carolina coach Peter Laviolette. "He's
proving he's a playoff player and one of the best hockey players in the