A time-honored tradition in the National Hockey League is the awarding of nicknames for just about everyone on a team’s roster. Penguins center Jordan Staal
often goes by “Staalsy” or “Gronk.” After surviving a scary incident during the second period of Monday’s contest with the New Jersey Devils, Staal was being called a different name by his teammates – “Warrior.”
Staal was rushed off the ice with the help of linemate Matt Cooke
and head athletic trainer Chris Stewart at the 12:59 mark of the second period after a clearing attempt by the Devils deflected off his stick and struck him square in the nose. After he was glued back together and five stitches were applied Staal had a full face shield attached to his helmet and he returned for the third period.
“The hockey player mentality, especially for a young guy like him, being tough and a warrior-type is a tradition this game was built on, with guys scrapping and goalies playing without helmets,” Jay McKee said. “The tradition just stuck.”
“It shows that he’s a warrior and he’ll do anything to win,” Tyler Kennedy
Hockey players have long been lauded for their toughness and Staal is no exception. Playing the part of heroic figure was the last thing on his mind as he lay on the ice in obvious pain in the far corner of the Devils zone to the left of Martin Brodeur. After staying down for a couple seconds Staal got to his feet and with the aid of Cooke and Stewart made a beeline for the runway to the Penguins dressing room.
So what was Staal thinking as he skated with a towel firm against his face and was he fully aware of what had transpired?
“I knew it hurt,” he said. “That was about it. I knew it was my nose which was a good thing. I was happy it didn’t hit my eye.”
As he helped deliver Staal to the team’s medical staff at the gate, Cooke said he was unaware where Staal had been cut and was just focused on getting him off the ice.
“I just saw the blood,” Cooke said. “I didn’t see a cut at all I just saw the blood coming out. By the time we got him to the gate the towel was dripping blood. It didn’t look good.”
Cooke said Staal did not say a word as they made the full-ice trip from the polar opposite spot where Staal suffered the laceration.
“I think he was just trying to deal with the pain,” Cooke said.
While Staal might have been at a loss for words in the immediate aftermath of getting cut he was able to talk about his experience after practice on Tuesday at Mellon Arena, a session Staal was able to get through with full participation.
“It felt like my nose was off,” Staal said. “It wasn’t a good feeling.”
Watching the blood pour from Staal’s face to the ice was not a good feeling for anyone in attendance Monday night, but that feeling improved tenfold when Staal sprinted onto the ice in the third period wearing a full face shield identical to the ones worn by amateur players.
Even though they were disappointed with the home team trailing on the scoreboard, ever-classy Penguins fans roared with approval in realizing Staal was back on the ice.
“To be honest it was pretty good,” said Staal of the reaction. “I felt like they were welcoming me back and it felt good to be back.”
The fans weren’t the only ones happy to see Staal back on the ice. His teammates, almost all of whom have been cut by a stick or puck at some point, lauded his courage in coming back into a game which appeared to already have been decided.
It felt like my nose was off. It wasn’t a good feeling - Jordan Staal
“That’s pretty gutsy,” Sidney Crosby
said. “As players, we were really happy to see him come back. We didn’t really know where the puck had got him when he first went down.”
Head coach Dan Bylsma said the injury looked severe at first, but once the medical staff was able to determine the extent of the cut and made sure Staal’s nose wasn’t broken, there was little doubt he would be back for the final frame.
“It is certainly not a pretty injury but I don’t think there was a question when we found out that it was only superficial that he was going to come back out there,” Bylsma said.
In order to keep his face protected Staal went with the full face shield, which he said really wasn’t as much of an adjustment for him as one would think since he wore a half-shield throughout his Junior career. The bulkiness of adding a cage was more of a nuisance than any problems with vision it might have created.
“It feels kind of weird on the helmet but they said it was fine so I was ready to go,” Staal said. “I wore a visor in Juniors. I don’t mind wearing it so we will see what happens.”
Bylsma didn’t think the cage hampered Staal’s play much during the final frame.
“I don’t think so,” Bylsma. “I think putting the cage on is an adjustment but he jumped right back out there in the third (period) and was a good player for us so I don’t see it being an issue.”
If Staal had any problems on the ice, Bylsma figured they had more to do with not being able to breathe normally and that such a problem probably lingered throughout the night when Staal went to sleep.
“It’s a tough way to skate and play when you have a nose issue and you are kind of leaking both internally in your sinuses and externally out of your nose,” Bylsma said. “It’s a bit gruesome.
“His toughest time probably came after the game just dealing with the effects of that trying to sleep and get some rest.”
According to McKee, losing sleep might be the least of Staal’s worries.
“He’s not as good-looking as he used to be,” McKee joked. “I think he’ll look good in a couple days. He’ll have a couple black eyes. He’ll have some good Christmas pictures.”