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Staal eager to get on Olympic ice for real

Tuesday, 02.09.2010 / 10:22 AM / All-Access Vancouver

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Staal eager to get on Olympic ice for real
In 2006, Eric Staal got to see the Olympics from Canada's taxi squad. In Vancouver, he will be in the thick of things.
This time, Eric Staal will get to play.
 
That wasn't the case in 2006 when Staal got to spend time in the Olympic Village in Torino, Italy, but not on the Olympic ice.
 
Staal, the Carolina Hurricanes' captain, was a member of Team Canada's taxi squad in '06 and could only watch from the sidelines as the Canadians stumbled to seventh-place finish.
 
"There's so much pressure on Canadian hockey players to do well," Staal said. "You expect a medal and you expect a gold medal. The way we finished (2006) was tough. You felt for the guys in there because they were working hard."

And it wasn't easy watching, either.

"The whole time I wanted to be on the ice -- it was tough watching," Staal said. "It's never fun watching, whether you're scratched or injured, but it was an experience. I got to see the whole Olympic Village and kind of experience those pressures and all that stuff, so I feel comfortable with all that. Obviously I wanted to be on the ice but, this time around, I'm going to be counted on and looking forward to that."

Staal isn't on the taxi squad for the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Now, he'll get the chance to help make Canadian redemption a reality.

"The whole time I wanted to be on the ice -- it was tough watching. It's never fun watching, whether you're scratched or injured, but it was an experience. I got to see the whole Olympic Village and kind of experience those pressures and all that stuff, so I feel comfortable with all that." -- Eric Staal

"My initial reaction was excitement, for sure," Staal said of getting the call from Team Canada Executive Director Steve Yzerman. "I was actually on the ice for practice during the call. I had checked my phone before I went on the ice and didn't have a voicemail or any missed calls, but when I came off the ice, I immediately checked my phone and had a missed call from Steve Yzerman so I knew that was a good sign. I checked the voice mail and he congratulated me -- it was a pretty neat feeling and something I'll always remember."

Staal is looking to reprise the success Canada had in 2002 when gold was the reward for beating Team USA in Salt Lake City. Four players from that team -- Jarome Iginla, Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and Martin Brodeur -- will be Staal's teammates in Vancouver.
 
"The Salt Lake Games really stood out to me because Canada won the gold," Staal said. "I was playing junior in Peterborough and watching and it felt like the whole country was cheering. That's something I'll never forget."

Staal was an offensive dynamo for Peterborough of the Ontario Hockey League in 2001-02, scoring 23 goals and 62 points in 56 games. He also was as alternate captain for the Canadian Under-18 National Team at the 2002 World Championships.

Staal also has represented Canada at the '07 World Championships, winning a gold medal, and taking a silver at the '08 Worlds. There he played on the wing with Ottawa's Jason Spezza and Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz.
 
But the Olympics will be a big highlight.

"This was something that was a goal of mine -- to be a part of it in Canada is going to be an extraordinary experience," Staal said. "It's something that's once-in-a-lifetime, there aren't words to describe it really. You're just going to have to feel it when you're there -- it's going to be awesome."

That said, Staal knows nothing will come easy for the Canadians. .

"The Russians have some talent and I was there in Halifax when they beat us in the gold-medal game in OT (during the '08 World Championships) so if we can get back into that game it'll be great," Staal said.

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com