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All-Star Game selection takes on new meaning for Staal

Wild center excited to take sons with him for fifth trip, first since 2011

by Tracey Myers @TraMyers_NHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Eric Staal didn't know if he'd be selected for 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend. Others in his family were sure of it.

"My middle guy had confidence," the Minnesota Wild center said of his 6-year-old son Levi. "He knew it was going to happen."

Staal, 33, learned Wednesday he will play in his fifth NHL All-Star Game, in Tampa on Jan. 28 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports). This one -- his first since 2011, when his Team Staal lost 11-10 to Team Lidstrom, selected by former Detroit Red Wings defenseman and Hockey Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom -- will be special because he'll be celebrating it with his three sons, Levi, Parker, 8, and Finley, 3.

 

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"It has a different feel for me than when I was a younger guy," Staal said. "It's fun because of the atmosphere, meeting other guys, and everything that goes along with it. But now to go through what I know it's about with my kids, with my boys, having them in the locker room, that part excites me a lot more."

Staal has been critical to the Wild this season, a healthy and steady presence for a team that's struggled with injuries and inconsistent play. He has played in all 44 games and leads Minnesota with 19 goals and 37 points.

When he signed with the Wild on July 1, 2016, Staal was coming off a 2015-16 season when he had a combined 13 goals and 26 assists in 83 games for the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers. He rebounded with 65 points (28 goals, 37 assists) in 82 games in his first season with the Wild.

"The funny thing about him is he had one off year and everybody's talking about him having a career resurgence. But he's been a fantastic player in the League his entire career," Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk said. "Ever since he's been here, you know exactly what you're going to get from him every night. He knows how to win, what allows him to be successful, and even if he's not necessarily having a good game, he's not having a bad game."

Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said Staal's selection to the All-Star Game was "great, and a better guy couldn't get it."

"I just think he's been put into position that he's been used to in his early years," Boudreau said. "In his latter years in Carolina, he was more of a caretaker of the young guys. They wanted him to be a mentor, and he still wanted to be a hockey player. I think he's happy to be where he is. He's got a lot of pride and he had a lot to prove and wanted to prove it. That's what I got talking to him on the phone before July 1."

Video: MIN@COL: Staal flicks home a rebound for a PPG

Staal may not have to be as big a mentor with the Wild, but teammates follow his example.

"Ever since he's come to our team, he's been a great leader. He definitely works hard every day, and that intensity is felt throughout the locker room. Everyone else has to step up and play to those standards that he sets for our team," defenseman Matt Dumba said. "You just watch him, you communicate with him during the game, and you learn a lot. He's a very passionate guy and knows what's going on out there."

Staal has found his niche with Minnesota. The desire to get better has never waned, and that quality and his production have been steady. In a season of ups and downs, Staal has been the consistent contributor the Wild have needed him to be.

"It's been everything I've hoped for in signing here. It's a great place to play hockey, great community, a fan base that cares about the game and exudes a lot of passion for it. That's what I was excited about coming here," Staal said. "It's been a lot of fun from the get-go, but I'd like to continue on to do more, do better. We're looking forward for a big second half."

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