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May2ThuAs one of four hockey-playing brothers, Eric Staal is stickhandling his way through the NHL. May 2, 2013 by Jayne Thurber-Smith
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- Faith & Friends
Eric Staal is living the Canadian dream. He has everything that really matters: a loving wife, two young sons, supportive parents and siblings. On top of that, he gets paid to play hockey for a living. In 2003, the 18-year-old was selected second overall in the NHL Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, and in 2009 he re-signed with them for another seven years.
Eric led his team in points during the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs with 28 points when they won the Cup. He was a member of the 2007 Canadian World Championships team that won gold. On home ice for the Canadian Olympic team in Vancouver, he helped win gold in 2010, becoming the 23rd member of what is known as the Triple Gold Club.
“As a team, the two weeks we had of growing together that ended in winning the World Championships was amazing,” he recalls. “And the Cup, every kid dreams of it! I have so many great memories.”
And there will no doubt be more to come. His three younger brothers with whom Eric grew up playing outdoor hockey games in Thunder Bay, Ont., are quickly following in his skate tracks. The second-oldest, Mark, plays for the New York Rangers. Brother Jordan recently left the Pittsburg Penguins to join Eric on the Hurricanes, and the youngest Staal, Jared, just recently joined the Hurricanes from their farm team, the Charlotte Checkers.
So what's the secret to having all four brothers make it into professional hockey?
“There's no one real secret,” Henry Staal, the father of this hockey dynasty, replies. “There are so many things involved. All my sons have been blessed with physical size, which helps. They're all around six foot four and have natural athletic ability. They're competitive and consistently focus on getting better. They keep their nose to the grindstone.”
Henry and Linda never forced their sons to play hockey, but Eric and his brothers knew once they joined a hockey team, they had to take that commitment seriously.
“They were coached that you're never bigger than the team,” confirms Henry. “You win or lose as a team. You do your job, whether it's hockey or anything else.”
“My brothers and I had a passion for hockey so there wasn't any problem with that,” Eric agrees. “Sports teach you traits that you can use throughout your life.”
Staying On Track
Eric enjoys the benefits of team play that hockey offers.
“There's nothing like the camaraderie of the team and how rewarding it is to do things that help your team be successful,” says Eric, the current Hurricanes captain. “You learn to sacrifice for each other and do your best to achieve all you can.”
But for all that hockey gives Eric, it can also take its toll.
“For me at this stage, with a wife and two young boys at home, the travel and being away from the family can be rough,” he says. “And those nights where you play the more physical teams or tougher opponents can wear on your body.”
It can also wear on your soul, but Eric and his immediate family attend church and have a solid base of Christian friends both in and out of hockey that help keep him on track.
A Coach for Life
Even though peewee hockey games may have kept them from attending a few church services while growing up, the Staal boys were reared in a Godfearing home.
“As a family, we would have dinner around the table and that was our time for prayer and family devotions,” Linda says. “Each boy also had their own individual devotional book that they read before they went to bed.”
Eric was not one to leave his faith behind when he left Thunder Bay.
“Moving away from home for hockey when I was 15, I didn't know what to expect,” explains Eric. “I was fortunate to get involved in a chapel program in Peterborough, Ont., where I played junior hockey. Most of the team went to all the chapels and it was a great time to study God's Word together.”
Realizing the benefits of bonding with those of like faith on his hockey team, Eric has become a supporter of Hockey Ministries International, which provides chapel programs to NHL teams.
“You're on the road so much and even when you're home, a lot of nights are taken up with games and practices,” he says. “It's great to be able to sit down after a practice with a couple of guys from the team and our chapel leader, and have some time to study the Bible.
“I have a hockey coach; having a chapel leader at the arena is like having a life coach."