Carolina captain Eric Staal talks to his brother Marc a couple of times each week, hoping one day soon the New York Rangers defenseman will tell him the headaches are gone and his hockey career can resume.
The concern is more than just brotherly compassion. It was Eric's hit on Marc during a game at RBC Center in Raleigh on Feb. 22 that is the reason why the Rangers' No. 1 defenseman remains out indefinitely. Marc still is suffering from concussion symptoms believed to be a result of Eric's hit that day.
"I wouldn't say it has kept me awake at night, but it's tough," Eric Staal told NHL.com. "If I could take it back I probably wouldn't hit him knowing where we've gone and what has gone on since then. But it was one of those plays, bang-bang, happens so quickly, and I hit him hard."
Carolina will visit the Rangers on Friday after facing the Devils in New Jersey on Tuesday.
Eric Staal caught Marc with his head down along the half-wall on the left side of the Hurricanes' zone late in the first period. Marc's stick was tied up by Joni Pitkanen, who got a hooking penalty on the play, and Eric knocked Marc off his skates with a shoulder-to-shoulder hit.
"Clearly it's a family member and you care about him," Carolina coach Paul Maurice told NHL.com, "but it was a clean hit, he was doing the right thing and it was a bad, bad result."
Eric said he didn't realize who he hit until immediately after the collision. He said he never has hit Marc that hard at any point in their long history of competing against one another, a history that began when they were pre-teens skating on the family farm in Thunder Bay, Ont.
"I mean, if it was anyone else I would have done the same thing," Eric said. "That's the hard part about it. It's total hindsight, and it doesn't change anything. He knows that, I know that. That's the way it is."
But all the understanding between the brothers does not change the fact that, according to Eric, Marc is not close to returning to the ice. The Rangers have not made Marc Staal available for media interviews since training camp. The New York defenseman is listed as out indefinitely.
"It's a process -- a slow process, but it's a process," Eric said. "He will be back. He's going to play again. His career in hockey isn't over. It's going to take some time, but he needs to make sure he's thinking about himself and his future, making sure he's fully 100-percent healthy, because if you don't, those things can linger for a long time. He has, and now it's about being smart about what you're doing to get back."
Eric said Marc is living normally, but the headaches come back when he exerts himself physically, which was the problem he encountered this summer, too.
"It was a back-and-forth battle," Eric said, referring to Marc's summer training regimen. "For most of the summer he started to feel good, then started pushing himself too hard and he started going back down the other road. It was difficult to see him going through that.
"Right now he's on the right track, and it's about staying on that track."