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Staal Excited, Honored to Lead Canes as Captain

Martinook, Slavin help complete strong, passionate leadership group

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

Centered along the far wall of the Carolina Hurricanes' locker room, beneath a collage of moments from the 2006 Stanley Cup championship - the celebratory team photo at center ice and the iconic image of Rod Brind'Amour emphatically lifting the coveted trophy above his head - is a stall.

And now, a Staal.

That locker, designated for the Hurricanes' captain, has been left vacant since Justin Williams, the 16th player in franchise history to serve in that capacity, announced in early September that he was stepping away from the game of hockey.

On the final day of the preseason, the Hurricanes filled that void, announcing their leadership group for the 2019-20 season, headlined by captain Jordan Staal and featuring alternate captains Jordan Martinook and Jaccob Slavin.

"Leadership is so important. In the game of hockey, especially, there needs to be someone driving the ship," the head coach said during a State of the Canes address on Sunday. "It's an easy decision for me for all of these guys."

Staal is no stranger to positions of leadership. He served as an alternate captain during his last four seasons in Pittsburgh (2008-12) and wore the "A" for six of his seven seasons with the Canes (2012-17, 2018-19). In 2017-18, Staal served as the Canes' co-captain alongside Justin Faulk, the two then morphing into alternates under Williams' leadership.

"I've learned a lot from our leaders throughout the years. I'm excited about the new challenge playing alongside this talented, young group. I'll try to lead the way as best I can," Staal said. "I'm one guy. I might have a C … but there is a group of guys in there that's going to find ways to lead. I'm going to be a piece of that doing things I do best."

Video: Captain Jordan Staal Meets with the Media

What he does best is a detailed list, making the decision to name him captain that much easier.

Staal is a workhorse on the ice, eating up space and minutes as one of the top two-way centers in the game. His leadership qualities are indisputable. Staal (and Faulk) had the unenviable task of deftly navigating the choppy waters of a co-captaincy two seasons ago, and night after night, Staal was more than willing to face the music and try to reason why the Canes were trudging their way through another playoff-less season, all while dealing with unimaginable heartache away from the rink.

That's leadership personified.

"Jordan has always been a leader. The way he plays every night, that's the ultimate and most important thing, but he's such a great person," Brind'Amour said. "He wears his heart on his sleeve, and he's going to give you everything he's got every night. That's what a captain has to do. It's an easy choice. Everyone is going to look up to him. That's the important thing."

"He's a guy who everybody, when you see him out there, you just naturally want to follow him," said Martinook, who sat just to the right of Staal until Sunday's news. "He works so hard. He goes about his business in such a mature, professional way. That's definitely somebody you can look up to. He's going to be the guy that leads us into it, and I think everybody is pretty excited about that."

Though who would lead the way was a straightforward decision, it was initially a decision Brind'Amour wondered if he would even make. Training camp helped settle that.

"I felt the last few games in watching our group and how we were going through everyday business, that it wasn't quite right. It just didn't feel right," he said. "I just felt like we needed to have somebody in charge of the room. We need to appoint a leader."

Brind'Amour consulted another trusted teammate, friend and leader: Williams.

"He gave me his 100 percent approval on [Staal] is the guy and you need to do it," Brind'Amour said.

That was all the confirmation the head coach needed.

"Roddy more or less said, 'Do you want to be captain?'" Staal smiled. "I'm excited and honored. Those were the two words that came out of my mouth."

Staal has totaled 510 points (217g, 293a) in 893 career NHL games, including 262 points (97g, 165a) in 462 games with the Hurricanes. Last season, the now 31-year-old veteran helped the Canes snap a 10-year playoff drought and added 10 points (4g, 6a) in 15 playoff games, including the game-tying goal in the third period of Game 7 in the First Round.

"[You see] how much he cares. You can tell in how he plays. You see it every night," Brind'Amour said. "He wants us to win as much as anybody, and he'll do whatever it takes whenever he can to come every night and do it right. That's the message we preach. As a coach, you want your captain to preach what you're throwing out there, and that's what he does."

Filling out the team's designated leadership core are Martinook and Slavin, diametric complements to one another as the Canes' alternate captains. Slavin is the more reserved of the bunch, while Martinook is very much energy forward.

"I can't say enough about those two guys. Slavo has been here for a while now. His day-to-day is so consistent, and his play is what you want to see on the back-end. He brings it every game," Staal said. "Marty is absolutely no different. He's a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve and shows up to work. Those are guys you want to follow and be around."

Video: Martinook: "Thursday night, it's go time"

Martinook had a career season in 2018-19, playing in all 82 games for the first time as an NHLer and tallying a career-high 15 goals. He paced the team with 199 hits and fought through a grueling lower-body injury in the playoffs to help push the Canes to the Eastern Conference Final.

"We need a guy to get the emotion going in our room and keep everyone together, and he leaves everything on the ice," Brind'Amour said. "He's a real bonding force in there."

"It's not going to change who I am in the dressing room or anything," an honored Martinook said. "I'm just going to try to keep the mood light, do what I do and just try to help the other two guys along."

Slavin has appeared in 303 consecutive regular-season games entering the 2019-20 season, the third longest ironman streak in franchise history. The 25-year-old defenseman has totaled 115 points (23g, 92a) in 309 career games with the team that drafted him 120th overall (fourth round) in the 2012 NHL Draft - the same weekend the Canes acquired Staal from Pittsburgh in a draft-day blockbuster.

Video: Slavin: "We have a great group of guys here"

"Another great human being. A guy who checks the boxes of being a great person and plays his heart out every night. … He's blossoming into that leader on the ice and one of the elite players in the game," Brind'Amour said of Slavin. "He lives here year-round. This is his home. That's special. That means something to me and the community."

Staal, whose locker position has been consistent since he joined the team in 2012, will relocate to the aft side of the room in time for the first of October. There, he will find the seat occupied by captains before him, including his brother, Eric, and a sweater with the C sewn onto the chest.

The Hurricanes leadership group for the 2019-20 season is strong and passionate, and at the head of it is a strong and passionate player who embodies what it means to be a leader. 

"It's just trying to get the most out of the players and the guys in the room," Staal said. "Then, just knowing how to push buttons. I thought Willy was really good at that, finding ways to make guys tick and get them prepared and ready to go, saying the right things. I've learned a lot from him and a lot of other leaders throughout my career, and I'm excited about doing it my way."

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