Friday, March 16, 2007
From backyard to big stage, Staal loves sibling rivalry
By David Amber
Special to ESPN.com
Having an NHL star for an older brother isn't always the easiest thing (just ask Brett Lindros), but with every game and shift, Jordan Staal is making a name for himself.
In this week's Facing Off, the 18-year-old Penguins rookie gives his take on the Chris Simon suspension, tells us which of the four Staal brothers is the best NHL player and explains what it's like riding shotgun with Sid the Kid.
Question from David Amber: Your father built you and your brothers an outdoor rink on your farm in Thunder Bay, Ontario. What was that rink like?
Answer from Jordan Staal: It was a big toy for us. We were out there pretty much every waking moment. We didn't have a chance early on to play on teams, so the four of us would just play outside against ourselves. It was so much fun, but we never knew it would lead to the careers it has.
Q: And from what I've read, it was pretty much the Taj Mahal of outdoor rinks. Is that true?
A: [Laughs] Yeah, it was huge. It was 100 feet long and 50 feet wide. There were boards and lights. It was amazing.
Q: It almost sounds as good as the Igloo right now.
A: [Laughs] Yeah, it's pretty close.
Q: I read the four of you would play go out on the ice and play two-on-two. How did that go?
A: It was pretty intense -- a few elbows thrown, some sticks thrown across the rink and stuff. It was usually me and Marc against Eric and Jared, and we definitely didn't want to lose.
Q: Within a few days of each other last summer, Eric won the Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes and you got drafted second overall by the Penguins. What was that week like for you?
A: Actually, I just finished up my season in the OHL and it was weird watching him in the playoffs. I never thought I would get a chance to even play in the NHL, let alone a Stanley Cup final, and now here I am in the league. That week was unbelievable. Watching my brother win the Cup was a boost for me to know one day I could do it myself. Then, right after that, getting drafted was another exciting moment. Coming to Pittsburgh, I knew it would be a great fit for me with all the young, talented players that were already here.
Q: What did Eric and your family do with the Cup?
A: Eric brought it to the city [Thunder Bay] and he brought it to our grandparents' place and to our grade school. He took it to his cottage and then brought it to our house for a little celebration with family and friends. It's amazing how excited people get when the Cup is around. There was a definite buzz in the air. It was kind of hard for me with the Cup 5 feet away and I couldn't touch it. I hope we can do it again.
Q: The first time you were on the ice in an NHL sweater against Eric, what happened?
A: There was some talking out there. We joked a bit, probably nothing you want to write down [laughs]. On one of the draws we had against each other, we had a bet for a Gatorade on who would win the draw and I lost, so I had to bring him a Gatorade after the game.
Q: Knowing how competitive you guys are, how much would it mean to you to score more goals than Eric this season?
A: I know I will be giving him a hard time this summer if I do, so I'm sure he's not too happy right now. So he will probably try to catch me, but I can't let that happen. It's very competitive, so it's good because we push each other to the next level, and I think that's what we've been doing our whole lives.
Q: You have nearly three times as many goals as assists [after Thursday's games, Staal has 28 goals and 10 assists in 69 games]. Should I be calling you a puck hog?
|Fast Facts -- Jordan Staal
• Staal was drafted in the first round (second overall) by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2006 NHL draft.
• Staal's oldest brother Eric plays for the Carolina Hurricanes; second-oldest Marc was selected 12th overall by the New York Rangers in the 2005 draft; youngest brother Jared plays for the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League.
• He leads the NHL with seven short-handed goals (through Thursday).
• He is second in rookie goals (28); teammate Evgeni Malkin is No. 1 (31).
• Staal leads the Penguins in plus/minus.
A: [Laughs] I don't know what it is, maybe I'm just not a good passer. Seems like the puck is going in for me, especially playing early on with Evgeni [Malkin]. I just needed to get open and the puck was on my stick.
Q: Last month on "Hockey Night in Canada," you became the youngest player to score a hat trick [including the game-winner in overtime] to beat the Maple Leafs. What do you remember most about that experience?
A: That was the first time I have ever played in Toronto. That's the team I have watched my whole life, so to finally get into that building and see and feel the atmosphere was incredible. I got to go on television with Don Cherry afterwards, so it was a dream come true. I remember watching Doug Gilmour in the studio with Cherry after a game, and for it to be me was amazing. It still hasn't sunk in yet.
Q: So, let's find out some more about the four Staal brothers. Who is the smoothest with the ladies?
A: [Laughs] Oh, OK. Probably my little brother, Jared. I can't lie. He's got something about him. I don't know what it is, maybe his red hair or something. He's got something with the ladies going on and he does a good job with it.
|Jordan Staal already has a knack for splitting the 'D' up the middle.|
Q: Which of the four of you is the biggest mama's boy?
A: Everyone says it is me, but I have to say it's my little brother [Jared]. He was always that little brat that goes screaming to mom after we don't even touch him, so I would have to say him.
Q: Which brother is the toughest?
A: It's pretty close. We've had some good fights, but I would have to say Marc. He has definitely had the most fights in his career, and I would say he has to be the toughest.
Q: Looking at your stats, you may be in line for the Lady Byng.
A: Yeah, no kidding. I have no penalties at all. I have to step it up here [laughs].
Q: Which brother is most likely to be a fan of Dr. Phil?
A: [Laughs] I have to say Eric for that one. He's a couch potato, I know that, so I could see him flipping channels and catching his eye on Dr. Phil.
Q: There's a Kim Staal from Denmark currently playing in the Predators organization. Could he be a long, lost cousin of yours?
A: Actually, I do have cousin named Kim Staal, but she's probably not in the Predators organization. So I don't think that guy is a relative.
Q: On a hockey Web site, I recently saw a poll that asked which Staal brother will have the best NHL career. How would you answer that poll?
A: Um, well, I would hope to say me, but it's hard to tell right now. I think we're all great hockey players. We all have different attributes, so even if I said me, the other guys might say something else.
Q: Just so you know, the poll answers were Jordan, 37 percent; Eric, 25 percent; Jared, 25 percent; and Marc, 13 percent.
A: Nice. That's what I like to hear.
Q: So, you've been logging on, haven't you?
A: [Laughs] No, not me.
Q: Ten games into the season, the Penguins had to choose whether to keep you on the team for the entire season or send you back to your junior team. Around that eighth and ninth game, what did you think was going to happen?
A: I wasn't sure. I heard a lot of different things. My teammates kept telling me not to worry. Guys were saying I was going to stick around, but I wasn't sure. When they told me they were keeping me with the team, I was ecstatic. I was working really hard, so I felt I deserved a shot to play.
|Through Thursday's games, Jordan Staal leads the NHL with seven shorthanded goals.|
Q: How do you explain your league-leading seven short-handed goals?
A: I don't know. I never scored a lot of short-handed goals in junior. It's weird. My first three NHL goals were all short-handed; you don't see that too often. In fact, I scored two short-handed goals in, like, my seventh career game, so that really helped my confidence and probably helped me stay with the Penguins.
Q: You are scoring on a ridiculous 26 percent of your shots, the most by any NHL player that qualifies in that category. Why don't you shoot more?
A: [Laughs] I don't have a blistering shot, but I guess it's hard enough. I've been lucky to find the corners and have some easy ones, thanks to my teammates.
Q: A couple of weeks ago, your coach Michel Therrien had moved you up to the top line for a few games with Sidney Crosby and Mark Recchi. What was it like playing with those two guys?
A: I only played a couple of games with those guys. I guess I didn't quite do the job, so they shifted me off that line. It was pretty amazing playing with them. Those guys are almost on a different level out there. You have to move your feet that much quicker and skate faster. Crosby obviously wants the puck, so you try to find him and give it to him and go to the net and he'll do his thing. He is, in my opinion, the best player in the league. I get a chance to see him every night, so I know the amazing things he can do.
Q: When you're on the road, give us an idea of what kind of attention Sidney Crosby receives.
A: It's nice for me to be able to just walk [with] him and watch him do his thing. It's almost unbelievable. It seems like every practice, there is tons of media around him. It makes sense he is leading the league in points at age 19. He's a great player and a great guy, so he deserves all the attention he gets. He is mature enough to handle it.
Q: What's the craziest fan experience you've had?
A: Just last week, I did a signing at a store in Pittsburgh and it was supposed to be just an hour. It ended up being an hour and a half, and I still ended up missing like a hundred people. There was a lineup that went right outside the mall. It was unbelievable how many people showed up. When I was walking out, there were people trying to grab me and stuff. For me to have that kind of fan base was quite an honor. I'm sure Sid gets that kind of attention every day, so he probably has some pretty good stories to tell you.
Q: Who deserves the Calder: you, Malkin or Paul Stastny out in Colorado?
A: I think Malkin. He has done everything he can, everything possible to win it. I think he is definitely the man.
Q: Why not Jordan Staal?
A: [Laughs] I don't know. I would love to win that thing, but I don't have the numbers he has. Of course, we have been put in different roles, but I think the way Malkin has been playing, taking the pressure off Sid, he has been huge.
Q: What was your reaction when you first saw the Chris Simon incident?
A: It was pretty crazy. It looked like he just lost it. He was hit hard into the boards and maybe a penalty should have been called there, but you can't react like that. I think the league did what it had to do to punish him.
Q: With the Pens' young skilled players like you, Malkin and Crosby, other teams will test you to see what you're made of. Do you ever get a sense things have gone too far with players trying to intimidate and maybe even hurt star players?
A: I haven't noticed a whole lot. The one thing that stood out was when [Jason] Blake speared Sid. You know, it's going to happen. When you're a star player like that, other teams will give you extra attention. That's the price you have to pay for that kind of success and it's just part of what happens when teams try to shut down the other team's big players.
Q: At the trade deadline, the Penguins added some toughness and leadership with Georges Laraque and Gary Roberts. How has that changed the dynamic of your team?
A: Laraque's a big man. He's a force out there. Honestly, ever since he came here, things have settled down a bit. For players like Evgeni, it really helps, I think. It was a great move by our staff. Gary is an amazing hockey player. He works so hard. For him to be 40 and still playing is amazing. He knows what he's doing out there, so that really helps our young guys. With his experience, it's a great addition for us, and hopefully we can feed off of his great work ethic.
Q: Last season, no one picked Carolina to win it all. A few years back, Tampa seemingly came out of nowhere. What's the feeling with the Penguins going into this season's playoffs?
A: Ultimately, we want to win the Stanley Cup. Like every team, that's what we're aiming for. I'll obviously be disappointed if we don't get it. The way we're rolling right now, we're not shy to be that next surprise team. It's just a matter of coming together and working toward one goal. Whether it's this year or not, I think we're happy with the way the team is moving, but hopefully we can get it this year.
ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
|Jordan, left, and Eric Staal are already making their mark on the NHL.|