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Staal sharpening his game for the next level

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

By Dan Hickling
Special to

It looked like it hurt. A lot.

But even if it did, you weren't going to hear one word of complaint out of Marc Staal's mouth.

Not one peep from the Rangers' young blueline prospect, not even after 20 minutes worth of end-to-end skating drills - "gassers" -- in a grueling morning skate for the Hartford Wolf Pack during their Atlantic Division Calder Cup playoff series with the Portland Pirates.

The Rangers figured that Staal, whom they chose with the 12th overall pick in the 2005 Entry Draft, needed the extra skating practice more than he needed game action that night. Hence, the extra work.

And the acceptance of it.

"Coming here from junior," said Staal, out of breath and drenched in sweat, "it's a lot more quick and the speed is more explosive. That's something I have to work on."

It might be telling that long after everyone else had left the Cumberland County Civic Center ice, Staal was still out there, cutting from side to side, making his cuts just a little tighter, blocking off the imaginary puck carrier just a tad faster.

All for the cause of making himself just a little more NHL-ready. That's the reason that Staal found himself in Hartford, days after his Sudbury Wolves were bounced from the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, by, of all people, his brother Jordan and the Peterborough Petes.

He joined the Wolf Pack just as they were about to get their opening-round series with the Manchester Monarchs underway.

"He's a very good competitor, and I think he's got a bright future," said Hartford assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson, who has taken Staal under his wing. "But his game right now is like they play in junior. Playing 30 minutes a game, doing a lot of turning, a lot of stops and starts (but) not a lot of explosive stops and starts. That's something we're trying to correct in a short period of time. It really is hard when you're extremely successful playing one way. But we've had some talks with him."

Not only is Staal, second in a line of four gifted hockey playing brothers, a hard-worker. He's a quick learner, too. Even when the lesson is a hard one.

In Game 3 of the Manchester series (his third as a professional), Staal was beaten by speedy Monarchs forward Jeff Giuliano, who jetted around Staal, then cut in to score the game-winning goal, in overtime.

Samuelsson said he was concerned about Staal's confidence after that miscue. Instead, he discovered that his young charge has a strong streak of resilience.

"He got beat wide on a game-winning goal," Samuelsson said, "and that's a big blow for anyone. Particularly for a young guy like that. But we see that as part of the learning experience. You have to (improve) on your quickness and lateral movement to be able to take players like that if you want to play in this league, and if you want to move up (to the NHL). So sometimes it's good to go through some mistakes."

For his part, Staal said he/s not afraid to make mistakes, as long as he doesn't make a habit of repeating them.

"If anything like that happens, you try to learn from it," he said. "You have to try to shrug it off and forget about it as quickly as you can, because it's only going to hurt you if you don't."

Blessed with a blend of size (6-foot-3, 195 lbs.) and intelligence, Staal seems destined for a successful NHL career.

But, he said, he doesn't want to get ahead of himself. For now, he's focused on being part of Hartford's run at the Calder Cup and hopes to have an AHL championship on his already impressive resume by the time he reports to the Rangers' training camp in September.
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