Just three months ago, the Carolina Hurricanes made their long-awaited home debut in the 2012-13 season.
Tonight, the Canes will wrap up their home schedule with a game against the New York Rangers, meaningless in the standings for Carolina but essential for New York, as they cling to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
But that’s not to say the game will be without fanfare: Jared Staal will join his brothers Eric and Jordan in a Canes’ sweater for the first time, and the Hurricanes will get a chance to measure their performance against a potentially playoff-bound team, similar to last Thursday’s tilt in Winnipeg and Tuesday’s win over the Islanders.
“We’re not in the playoffs, but the next best thing for us is to play in these games against teams that are fighting for something,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “Let’s be ready to play a playoff game, and that will be an experience for us. For me, it’s more of the mentality of how can this better our team and young guys that haven’t played in a playoff game yet?”
While these final games likely won’t have any bearing on the team’s success come October, rising to the challenge of facing a team fighting for its life is one worth evaluation.
“In a game like tonight where it means something for a team, let’s see how you match up. Let’s see how you play against a guy who’s looking at you saying, ‘Hey, I’m giving it all tonight to win this hockey game,’” Muller said. “It should bring the best out of you, and that’s how you get better as a player.”
Becoming the sixth player to make his NHL debut this season for the Canes will be Jared Staal, the youngest of the four Staal brothers, who will all be inside PNC Arena tonight. Though Marc has not yet returned to the Rangers’ lineup, he is traveling with the team, making tonight an end-of-season family reunion.
“I’m sure it would have been pretty interesting because he would have had to deal with one of us at least every shift,” Jared said when asked what it would have been like if Marc was playing, as well.
“It’s an opportunity for the brothers to play together,” Muller said, noting that while he doesn’t have plans to play them on a line together, anything could happen.
Two “J. Staal” jerseys and the numbers 11 (Jordan) and 13 (Jared, previously No. 34) will be featured on one line, as Jared will play wing alongside Jordan, a bit of a departure from the two-on-two games that were once played in the Staal household, in which Jared would team up with Eric against Jordan and Marc.
Eric, Marc and Jordan all broke into the NHL at a young age, and Jared has had more of a meandering path. Is there pressure being a Staal? Sure, but he’s not letting that eat away at him, at least not anymore.
“A few years ago, I thought about it more,” he said. “They’re all exceptional players that deserved to be in the NHL at a young age.”
Looking to make the jump to “the show,” having three older brothers who’ve established themselves in the league opens up a wealth of knowledge and information.
“They help me out a lot,” Jared said. “The advice they give me is to find your niche and play your role to the best of your ability, and things will fall into place.”
“You’ve got to have an identity,” Muller said of how players entrench themselves in the NHL. “In the perfect world, whatever you do, you do it well.”
After receiving the call-up news on Wednesday – something he called shocking and “almost surreal” – Jared made his way to Raleigh to join his brothers. Now, he’s ready to make history, as the trio becomes only the fourth in NHL history to dress for the same team in one season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“Hopefully things go well. I’m going to try to enjoy it,” Staal said, smiling with the media conglomerate gathered around him. “It’s going to be exciting.”