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Maybe we'll finally find out Henry Staal's favorite son

Sunday, 01.27.2008 / 11:05 PM / 2008 NHL All-Star Game

By Larry Wigge - Columnist

Marc Savard (L) scored with 20.9 seconds left in regulation to lift the Eastern Conference to a thrilling 8-7 victory in the 2008 All-Star Game.
“Is this the year?”

The sales pitch for this season in the National Hockey League begins with several current stars uttering that phrase and talking about goals and goalies in the superlative.

For a few moments Sunday night at the 2008 All-Star Game in Atlanta, I wondered if we might see a number of the goals mentioned in the commercial in one night in this offensively gifted showcase that wound up with the Eastern Conference beating the West, 8-7, on a goal by Boston’s Marc Savard with 20.9 seconds left.

Well, maybe this isn’t the night when someone would get 93 goals ... or 200 points.

But ...

It was very clear that this year at the All-Star Game we saw more than one forward become unstoppable.

Columbus’ Rick Nash had one goal in each of the three periods and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Carolina’s Eric Staal scored two goals apiece. Staal wound up with three points and was named Most Valuable Player.

In this year’s game, we also saw a goalie stop everything, when San Jose’s Evgeni Nabokov denied Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk twice on great saves late in a flawless eight-save second period after Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders turned back 12 of 13 in the first period.

Is this the year?

The one line that could perhaps be answered without a single goal, assist or save remained on the lips of Eric Staal.

"Is this the year we find out who is dad’s favorite?" Eric asks on the commercial, making the most of an old Smothers Brothers routine about who mom liked best that always got a few laughs.

Eric is the oldest of the three Staal brothers in the NHL today, with center Jordan in his second season with the Pittsburgh Penguins and defenseman Marc a rookie with the New York Rangers. Youngest brother Jared is a winger playing with Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League. He figures to be selected in the first or second round of this year’s NHL Entry Draft.

So, we put on our investigative reporter’s hat to try to find the answer to the question that everyone -- yes, even those who live near Henry and Linda Staal in Thunder Bay, Ontario -- would like to know.

"He talks to the younger kids a lot more than me," Eric laughed.

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Since Henry was in the building for the All-Star Game -- sitting in the stands with Marc (Is that a clue there? I’m not sure yet.) -- and unable to be reached before the game, we dialed up the 807 area code and mom Linda was there to tell us: "I’m sure he’ll say he likes all of them best."

But who does mom like best? "No comment," Linda laughed. "Is that OK to say?"

After the second period, I was finally successful in reaching the patriarch of the Staal family and discussed this situation amid the blare of a band playing inside the Philips Arena.

"Yeah, I love that commercial," Henry said, then he laughed and added, "My answer? Well, you may never find out."

When told that Eric said it would have to be one of the younger Staals -- and we know he was sitting there watching the game next to Marc -- Henry wouldn’t budge, adding, "I like them all the best."

What is clear is that whether it’s Eric in Carolina, Jordan in Pittsburgh, Marc in New York or Jared in Sudbury, it all started for this Sutter-like clan on a 50-by-100 foot rink, with boards and lights, that Henry and Linda built on their 500-acre sod farm to keep their sons out of mischief. Everyone worked long days and then had fun on the rink afterward.

"Before the kids would practice, we'd warm up by playing keep-away," Staal said with a gleam of competitiveness in his eyes. "Sometimes it was one guy with the puck against ... maybe 17. Dad taught us how to protect the puck and keep it moving. It's the best thing we all learned on that old backyard rink."

When there wasn't enough for a team, the Staals squared off 2-on-2, with the oldest and youngest teaming up against the middle boys. Marc said he and Jordan used to win all the time, but Eric disputes that claim.

"It would get pretty heated," Eric said. "There were definitely some sticks thrown. But it was all part of growing up, I guess. I know we always pushed one another to do better.

"We’re all pretty competitive. I know I hate to lose."

Henry and Linda didn’t push their sons into hockey. But they’ve traveled far and wide to see their hard-working and talented sons.

"There was no time for my parents to think about comparing the Staals to the Sutters," Eric laughed. "They were too busy all over the map watching hockey."

After watching his eldest son win the Stanley Cup back in 2006, Henry Staal (center) was in Philips Arean to witness Eric take home the All-Star Game MVP on Sunday night. 

Brotherly love? Well, yes, but not like Scott Niedermayer going from New Jersey after he won three Stanley Cups there to Anaheim where he could play alongside his brother Rob. And, lo and behold, there was Scott passing the Stanley Cup to Rob after the Ducks won the Stanley Cup last June.

"Seeing Scott Niedermayer hand the Stanley Cup to his brother, Rob, was pretty neat and emotional for me having brothers in the game," Eric admitted, leading to the thought that some day he might be on the same team with one of his brothers ... and maybe win a Stanley Cup like that, too. "It’s something that really caught my attention -- and something I’d really like to do."

Eric was at home in Thunder Bay last June watching that stirring brotherly moment -- something Henry Staal remembers vividly. Eric won a Stanley Cup in 2006 and brought it back to Thunder Bay. But Henry, wouldn’t it be best if two sons brought the Stanley Cup back home together?

"I must admit I never thought about that until I saw Scott and Rob hand off the Stanley Cup," Henry said. "I know that would be a dream come true for all of us."

Is this the year?

But Henry, you didn’t answer my question.

"I know," he said, stickhandling around the question like Eric did on the ice at the All-Star Game in Atlanta.

What Henry Staal didn’t know is that his oldest son isn’t beyond bribing his dad for affection.

Listen to Eric as he smiled after being named All-Star MVP and continued, remembering his line in the commercial: "I was saying to the guys on the ice, if I do give it (the car as MVP) to my parents, I would, for sure, be the favorite of the family ... for at least a while. But we’ll see what happens."

And this could be the year ... when dad tells us who he likes best.

Cut and print. That’s a wrap.

Quote of the Day

[Stamkos] is a great teammate and a great leader, that's why he's got the 'C'. He brings that tremendous work ethic to the rink and he's one of the top players in the game. I know if I put the passes where they are supposed to be, there's a very good chance he's going to put it in the back of the net.

— Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin on linemate Steven Samkos
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