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Staal hoping for All-Star hometown greeting

by Mike G. Morreale
Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal is holding out hope he'll have an opportunity to be introduced to a capacity crowd at RBC Center in Raleigh when the 2011 All-Star Game presented by Discover is held Jan. 30.

"It's exciting for the fans and for me. I want to make sure I'm playing well enough to be in that game," Staal, who has 6 goals and a team-leading 17 points, told "I know having played in previous All-Star Games and playing in those cities, how the fans get behind their own player. I want that to happen for me here; that would be a lot of fun. For our fans to experience the whole event and see the talent in the League, all together at once, is pretty cool."

Staal discussed this year's All-Star Game format on NHL Live! on Monday. The new format for this year's All-Star Game will have captains for each side selecting from a pool of players chosen by a combination of fan balloting and the NHL Hockey Operations Department.

When asked who he would choose if named a team captain, Staal didn't hesitate.

"In an All-Star Game, it's all about defense so I'd probably get the shut-down defense first and go from there," said Staal, tongue in cheek. "Just kidding. ... There are so many great players with so much skill and so much talent, you can't really go wrong with any player. If I got that honor to pick, it's a lot of pressure, but at the same time, I'm sure the guys would have fun with it."

Staal admitted the NHL's midseason spectacular is a great time for players to become reacquainted with each other in an enjoyable setting.

"For both players and fans, especially players, this year's game is going to be pretty special," he said. "You'll have fun picking teams and being on the ice together. Obviously, it's not the same intensity as a regular-season game, but there's still that competitiveness. Also, having a chance to meet the guys and enjoy doing things outside the arena is great. Anytime you have an opportunity to get to know these great athletes better off the ice, it's pretty cool."

Staal certainly expects to see Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner, who is second on the team with 15 points, as one of the 12 rookies involved in the Honda NHL SuperSkills on Jan. 29.

"He's a good player, he loves to be on the ice and always has a big smile," Staal said of Skinner. "He competes hard, will play a long time and score a lot of goals. You can see the offensive upside in him with the numbers he's putting up. He'll be an elite player and he'll have the same numbers as the (Tyler) Seguins and (Taylor) Halls and those guys. It's exciting for the organization and for me."

The All-Star Game will mark the fourth time the Hurricanes have hosted a major NHL event, following the 2002 and '06 Stanley Cup Finals and 2004 Entry Draft. It marks just the second major-league All-Star Game to take place in North Carolina -- Charlotte hosted the 1991 NBA All-Star Game.

"(Hosting the All-Star Game) means a lot because it caps off a great 9-10 years for this organization," Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford told "We go to the Final in '02, host a very successful draft in '04, hoist the Cup in '06, and reach the final four in '09. And now the All-Star Game.

"I know having played in previous All-Star Games and playing in those cities, how the fans get behind their own player. I want that to happen for me here; that would be a lot of fun." -- Eric Staal

"That's a pretty incredible run for a young franchise that basically moved to a non-traditional hockey market and now has done those things. It'll be great for the fans and the media. The League promised we'd get it, and we're proud we're going to host that game because it'll be a good one."

It also will be the third time in six seasons the All-Star Game will be held at the venue of a team residing in the Southeast Division. The Florida Panthers hosted in 2003 and the Atlanta Thrashers in '08. There was no game in 2005 (work stoppage), '06 (Winter Olympics) and '10 (Winter Olympics).

Current members of the Hurricanes who have participated in past All-Star Games include associate coach/director of player personnel Ron Francis (1983, 1985, 1990, 1996), assistant coach Tom Barrasso (1985), Staal (2007, 2008, 2009) and forwards coach Rod Brind'Amour (1992). Staal was named the Most Valuable Player of the '08 All-Star Game in Atlanta.

"It'll be great," Brind'Amour told "I remember how the Draft was really well-received, but having the All-Star Game is the pinnacle. It's huge and I think it'll create more awareness for Raleigh ... it's a good hockey town and hopefully they'll put on a good event and it'll be a good night for everyone."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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