By Neil Becker
Make no mistake, Eric Staal has a burning hunger to win another men’s Olympic hockey gold.
This former NHL veteran forward, who has scored over 1,000 points in 1,293 career games, wasn’t about to turn his back on another opportunity to once again proudly represent Team Canada at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. In fact, not only did Staal earn a roster spot, but was also named team captain.
“The opportunity to represent Canada at the Olympics is very special, and being named captain is an honour and something I take a lot of pride in,” Staal told hockeycanada.ca.
Staal, who at 37 years of age, is on the back nine of his career, made hockey history when 12 years earlier at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic games, this Thunder Bay Ontario native won gold with Team Canada, which punched his ticket into the Triple Gold Club. The qualifications he met were winning a Stanley Cup, which he did in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes, along with a year later helping Canada win gold at the 2007 IIHF World Championships, and last but not least, winning Olympic gold. In showing just how rare a feat this is, Staal is only the 23rd player to gain membership in this exclusive club.
The Carolina Hurricanes drafted Staal second overall in the 2003 NHL entry draft. Without question, his best NHL season was the 2005/06 campaign when he posted a breakthrough 45 goal, 100-point season before showing to be a money player by scoring 28 points in 25 playoff games in leading the Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup.
His stock continued to rise as he made franchise history a few years later when on January 20, 2010, he was appointed the fifth captain in Carolina franchise history. After nearly 11 full seasons with the Hurricanes, Staal was traded to the New York Rangers on February 28, 2016.
His time on Broadway wasn’t smooth as he finished off the 2016 season by scoring only three goals and six points in 20 regular season games. He did, however, get a chance to play on the same team as younger brother Marc Staal. These two, as all hockey fans know, have another NHL-playing brother in forward Jordan Staal, who was drafted 2nd overall in the 2006 draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins and, ironically enough, currently is team captain of the Hurricanes.
Following his stint with the Rangers, Staal, who was an unrestricted free agent, agreed on July 1, 2016, to a three-year contract with the Minnesota Wild, and that’s when his career started to rise again. That first season in Minnesota, he produced 65 points. In total, he played four seasons in Minnesota before getting traded on September 16, 2020, to the Buffalo Sabres. Staal would go on to play 32 games with the Sabres, where he produced three goals and 10 points before getting traded on March 26, 2021, to the Montreal Canadiens.
His tenure in a Habs uniform saw Staal score only two goals and three points in 21 regular season games. He was also a pivotal factor in the post-season, where he helped Montreal make an unexpected run to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
This season, Staal was playing for the AHL’s Iowa Wild when last month he was presented with this latest opportunity, which he couldn’t pass up to play for Team Canada. Whether on the ice or in the locker room, Staal brings lots of valuable veteran leadership. He is a valuable leader for young Team Canada players such as defenceman Owen Power and Mason McTavish in naming just two of the several young hockey players participating in their first winter Olympics.
“I have so many fond memories of competing at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and winning a gold medal on home ice, and I am honoured to once again be nominated for the 2022 Games in Beijing,” Staal told Olympic.ca. “The Olympics are the pinnacle of sport, and I know our entire team is grateful for the opportunity to compete for a gold medal in Beijing and be a part of Team Canada.”
Winning Olympic gold would be the perfect ending for a successful career. Saying that, Staal isn’t closing the book on weighing any possible NHL offers.