EDMONTON, Alberta - Hockey has always been a family game, passed along from father to son, from brother to brother.
Gordie Howe was followed onto the ice by two of his kids, Mark and Marty. The amazing Sutters sent a half-dozen siblings to the NHL. And, now, there's a new family act in the works. Meet the Staals:
- Twenty-one-year-old Eric Staal is already a star center for Carolina, a former first-round pick who scored 100 points this season and helped the Hurricanes reach the Stanley Cup finals against the Edmonton Oilers.
- Next up is 19-year-old Marc Staal, who was taken in the first round of the 2005 draft by the New York Rangers. While the defenseman spent this season getting more experience in the Canadian junior ranks, he seems destined to wind up in the Big Apple.
- Then comes 17-year-old Jordan Staal, projected as one of the top picks in this year's draft. A center cut from the same mold as his oldest brother, he's the top-ranked North American forward in the draft.
- Finally, there's Jared Staal, only 15 but already on the same career path. The right winger went early in the Ontario Hockey League draft and will be heading off to get the junior-league seasoning his three older brothers have experienced.
"It's exciting for me to watch them develop and do the same sort of things I've done," Eric said after the morning skate for Game 4.
Their father, Henry Staal, can't figure it out. He had only middling success during his own playing career, which ended in the Canadian college ranks, but he could wind up having four sons in the NHL.
"I had million-dollar legs and 10-cent hands," he quipped. "But if anything rubbed off on them, it might have been my love of the game. I just loved to play - anywhere, anytime."
At the family's 500-acre farm near Thunder Bay, Ontario, Henry constructed a rink for his kids, complete with boards, nets and lights. Every winter, he watered it, let it freeze and turned his boys loose.
"We were out there all the time," Eric remembered. "It wasn't something we did to try to make the NHL. It was something we did because we enjoyed it, we had fun, we passed time. It was a way for my parents to get us out of the house. You know, four boys in the middle of winter fighting with each other, it can get on your nerves."
That rink produced fierce competition.
"Sometimes, we would see sticks flying over the boards because someone got mad," Henry said. "When they came inside, their shins would be black and blue from all the slashing. But they didn't get too carried away. It's not like they got into fisticuffs or anything like that."
Henry and his wife, Linda, instilled a work ethic in their kids that paid off at the rink. All the boys had to help out on the family farm, filling out time forms and getting paid like any other employee.
"There are no shortcuts," Henry said. "You've got to get up. You've got to go to work. That's what you did in our family."
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