Team Canada’s penchant for the dramatic was not limited to the televised selection special that aired nationally in Canada and on the NHL Network in the United States.
In contrast to the Finnish team, which let its players know their fate three days prior to the official announcement, the Canadians were guessing until the last possible minute. When Eric Staal took the ice for the Hurricanes’ Wednesday practice just one hour prior to the announcement, he still had not heard a peep.
It wasn’t until after he returned to the locker room and checked his phone, literally minutes before the selection show began, that he heard the good news about his participation in the 2010 Winter Olympics in his home country.
“I wasn’t really sure,” said Staal of when he expected to receive official word from Steve Yzerman and the rest of Canada’s Olympic selection team. “I heard through the grapevine that it was going to be in the morning sometime that they would be calling. I wasn’t super-worried about it, but you’re always wondering.
”I checked it a little bit later after I came off the ice and saw that I had a missed call, which I figured was a pretty good sign.”
Although Staal seemed a good bet to make the team after a strong playoff performance in 2009 and a trip to the team’s orientation camp later that summer, a handful of injuries and the resulting slow start to the season had caused some to doubt his merit. A total of 21 points in the 16 games following a 10-game injury hiatus, easily the longest of his career, helped eliminate that skepticism.
“It’s tough to say,” said Staal of how he rated his own chances as the season went on. “You have days where you have a good game and say, “Yeah, I should be in the mix,’ and then you have a game where you don’t play so well and think, “Yeah, maybe not.’ It’s one of those things and it goes up and down.”
Although disappointed not to be chosen alongside his brothers Marc and Jordan and teammate Cam Ward, whose own injury problems hurt his chances this year, Staal is nonetheless looking forward to his first experience of actually playing in the Olympics.
“This is going to be intense,” he said. “I was in Torino last time [on the reserve "taxi squad" for the 2006 games] and obviously not playing, but I was around the dressing room and it’s as competitive as ever. I’m excited this time around to be in the mix and counted on to perform on the ice.”
Despite the series of nagging injuries Staal has endured this season – some which have kept him out of the lineup and some which have not – Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said he wasn’t at all concerned about his star player participating in a grueling tournament when he could instead be enjoying a few weeks of rest during the break in the NHL schedule.
“If it was a lesser deal, you’d be worried about it and say, ‘Jeez, I wish he’d rather rest,’” said Maurice. “This is such a motivating thing for a lot of players and can be a real positive jump-off for them.
“I think with Eric, you’re going to see his game build and build,” Maurice continued. “He’s starting to feel a little better and he’s got the confidence – that issue now is decided. Now there’s an excitement for him to continue to build on what he’s started since he’s come back from his injury. His numbers are outstanding and I think there’s more there.”