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Staal understands challenges of resuming season, will be ready if it does

Veteran forward says it'd be tough to be away from family for extended period should hockey return in hub cities this summer

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

For as long as most Wild players have been away from game action as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Eric Staal has been away a few days longer. 

When the NHL hit pause on the season on March 12, Staal was prepping to play for the first time in more than a week. Minnesota played its final three games before the stoppage on the West Coast, a trip that Staal had missed after the death of his father-in-law after a battle with cancer.

And while Staal misses being on the ice and playing the sport he loves, the time away from the rink has certainly helped put a lot of things in perspective.

"That's been kind of the blessing for me with my family and what we dealt with throughout the course of this whole season," Staal said. "It was a lot different. Someone extremely close to me went through cancer and treatment and ultimately, lost the battle. For me, going through that and being at home for that time, then the season basically canceled or postponed coming back, [it allowed me] to be there. 

"To me, family is everything. It was good for me to be there for my wife and my kids and my mother-in-law. Playing definitely is a little more challenging with travel and being there in moments, but with everything that's gone on, we were able to do that and go through that grieving process."

While hope remains high that the NHL will return at some point this summer, Staal said there still remains plenty of challenges to making that a reality. 

For him, a veteran in his 16th season, with three kids and a wife at home, camping out in one city away from his family for, potentially, several weeks doesn't sound that appealing. 

"That's a little bit difficult to envision," Staal said. "But, there's been a lot of things difficult to envision as getting to this point."

Staal's sober attitude regarding a potential return to play is one that should carry plenty of weight with his fellow players. Only four active players have skated in more than Staal's 1,240 career games. 

"I think this is really hard to see how this is going to finish," Staal said. "But I know they are still trying to game-plan it and figure it out. We'll see. They'll make decisions as time moves on."

Whether it should or whether it will finish are two different questions, and at this point, Staal said he doesn't have a gut feeling on whether the League and its players will be able to find enough common ground to resume the 2019-20 season.

"There's so many hoops, so many hurdles, so many different factors that go along with it in order for it to finish," Staal said. "The discussions and the committees they're putting together, it certainly seems like they're intent on trying to get it finished. 

"I can't give a concrete answer either way. It's one of those things that I'm going day-by-day and week-by-week as far as everything goes. Hockey is no different."

If the decision is made to play, Staal said he'll be ready. His passion for the sport has been one of the common threads of his career, and one that he hopes continues to propel him forward for a few more seasons.

"I'm excited to play all the time. That's why I've been doing it as long as I have, I love coming to the rink, I love playing and I love being there with my teammates and competing," Staal said. "That competitive fire never goes away and that part I love to do."


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