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Staal doesn't want to miss Classic, won't rush back

by Dave Lozo
Marc Staal probably has a good idea of what brother Jordan Staal was going through last season in the days leading up to the 2011 Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Jordan missed the first 39 games of the regular season due to a broken hand. The Penguins' center was able to mend just in time to participate in the outdoor contest at Heinz Field, providing him with a rain-soaked memory of skating in an NHL game at a football field for the second time in his career.

Marc is in the same boat this season. He has yet to play in a game due to a concussion. With a little more than a week before his New York Rangers face the Philadelphia Flyers in this year's Winter Classic, he has only just reached the stage in his recovery from a concussion where he is cleared for contact.

While Jordan had the luxury of perhaps rushing himself back a bit from his injury to play in the Winter Classic, Marc is unable to do the same.


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"Maybe he came back a couple games early," Marc said of Jordan. "It's a little different with your hand than your brain."

Playing against the Flyers on Jan. 2 is not completely out of the realm of possibility. Staal has been skating with the Rangers for a couple weeks and was cleared for contact after the holiday weekend. Even though doctors have given him the OK, Staal said last week it would be cutting it close to get back for that game.

For now, he has to live vicariously through his brother's experiences. Not only did Jordan play against the Capitals, but he was part of the first Winter Classic in 2008 when the Penguins faced Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo.

"He liked it," Marc said. "He liked the Buffalo one better because it was cold and snowing and it was pretty cool. It was a little (worse) weather last year. He said he loved both experiences."

Staal doesn't need to have Winter Classic experience to know what he'll be missing if he can't play against the Flyers.

"We play in front of big crowds -- 18,000 people, 19,000 people," Staal said. "There's 46,000 people jammed in there. To get to do that as a hockey player is not something everyone gets to do. I think that aspect of it is pretty cool. Just the attention you're getting. There's big games during the season, but this one is on everybody's mind."

The Rangers have found a way to not only survive, but thrive with Staal out of the lineup. Making it even more surprising is how decimated the Rangers' blue line has become since Staal was shut down during training camp.

Michael Sauer suffered a concussion Dec. 5 and is out indefinitely. Steve Eminger has a separated shoulder and won't return for about two months. Jeff Woywitka has been out since Dec. 17 due to a foot injury that was worsened when he was hit in that spot during a practice just days later.

Staal admits there will be frustration if he can't get back in time for the Winter Classic, but he won't rush back for the outdoor experience, even if the team's defensemen are as banged up as any in the League.

"It's something I'm not going to step into if I'm not ready," Staal said. "It's just not worth it to put yourself into a position like that if you're not ready, physically or mentally. It sucks that I probably might not get a crack at it. It is what it is."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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