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'Canes already know Staal can lead the way

by Mike G. Morreale
There's no need for Eric Staal to worry about motivational speeches or dressing-room rants in attempt to rally his Carolina Hurricane teammates.

They already know the kind of leader their new captain is and the impact he's had in just five-plus NHL seasons, so a simple shift or drill during practice would suffice.

"Eric's the face of the Hurricanes, he's the future and he's a guy who really leads by example with his play on the ice," Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward said.

"Eric has always been one of those players who takes his play to another level when it really counts," Carolina forward Jussi Jokinen said. "You could see it when he took over the captaincy and scored a hat trick in the next game. In 2006, when the guys won the Cup, he was the best forward in the whole playoffs. I think he's one of those players who can rise when the stakes are high."

Staal replaced Rod Brind'Amour as captain on Jan. 20 -- becoming the 13th player to wear the "C" in franchise history and the fifth since the team relocated to North Carolina. Brind'Amour, who was captain for four-plus seasons, will serve as an alternate.

"Eric's a great leader and the best player on the team," Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen said. "He's very quiet, but when he says something, everybody listens."

Thanks to lessons learned from former captains Brind'Amour and Ron Francis, Staal says he's well equipped for whatever the future might hold.

"I feel I want that responsibility (as captain), I want the reins, I want that challenge," Staal told "A few years ago, it might have been a little bit more of a pressure situation. Now it's something I'm looking forward to.

"I think I'm more of a lead by example type," he continued. "Obviously, when things need to be said, I feel I'll recognize the right time. I've always been a leader by example and by my play. The biggest thing I've learned from Rod (Brind'Amour) and Ron (Francis) was not to change who you are and continue to play and work as you've done in the past."

Despite the fact the Hurricanes are 15th in the Eastern Conference and 29th in the League, Staal doesn't feel any added pressure to produce -- at least not immediately.

"We haven't had a great season and it's been a tough slide from the beginning, but it was a change and fresh opportunity and something for me to grab a hold of and be excited about," Staal said. "We're near the bottom so there's less pressure -- you can just play and work as hard as you can. That's what I'm trying to do right now. Personally, I just want to bring my best to practice every day and, hopefully, we'll improve down the stretch and see what happens in building towards next year."

If there isn't much pressure to produce, Staal certainly didn't play like it just one day after earning the captaincy when he connected for his first hat trick of the season and the ninth of his career in a 5-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers. He currently sits even with Francis for most three-goal games in franchise history.

"When I came in, Ron (Francis) sat right beside me in the locker room and I watched how he approached the game and how he prepared," Staal said. "Then I was sitting beside Rod the past couple of years and I watched him. It has been a learning experience for me on how to be a pro and approach every game and practice. There aren't two better guys to learn from."

Since returning from an upper-body injury that sidelined him 10 games in November, Staal has 12 goals and 33 points in 26 contests. For the season, he's struck for 15 goals and 38 points in 39 games.

"I think Eric's biggest attribute is his play on the ice and work ethic in practice," Ward praised. "He's still a young guy who's been through a lot already, but he's going to be in Carolina for a very long time and it'll be fun to be behind him and watch him lead this team in the future."

Staal signed a seven-year extension with the team in September 2008 that will run through the 2015-16 season. He realizes there's going to be more opportunities, as captain, to help heighten the game down South.

"Whenever there's an opportunity to meet new people or introduce hockey to people who don't know the game, you want to try and do that," he said. "Carolina is a great place to live, it's a great place to raise a family. For me, it's been awesome. I want to continue to grow the game in Carolina and help bring more fans to the game."

Contact Mike Morreale at
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