ST. PAUL -- Eric Staal's heart sank just a little bit last Friday as he was walking to get his normal pre-game coffee at a Denver shop.
It was a text message from Wild GM Bill Guerin, asking the veteran centerman to give him a call when he could.
It's rare for a general manager to make such a request, especially on a game day, so Staal's heart may have skipped a beat or two as he dialed Guerin's number.
It turned out, the GM had only good news to share.
Staal was headed to his sixth NHL All-Star Game next month in St. Louis, and Guerin wanted to share the news over the phone before the Wild defeated the Avalanche 6-4 at the Pepsi Center, a game in which Staal would score a goal.
Now in his fourth season with the Wild, about four years after some in the hockey world said Staal was washed up as a player, that his best days were behind him, that he was no longer the player he was during his best days with the Carolina Hurricanes, Staal will head to his second All-Star Game in the past three seasons.
"You never want to play this game in spite of other people, other people's opinions. I don't think that's the best way to be," Staal said. "But, there's always a little bit of added motivation, added good feeling when you get recognized for something like this and you know that you believed in yourself.
"Now, to be recognized a couple of times since those days, it feels good for sure. But at the same time, there's always ups and downs and the best part is being here every day and playing this game regardless of how things are going."
You won't find a classier person in the Wild dressing room than the well-respected Staal, who means it when he says he doesn't harbor much in the way of personal animus toward those that doubted him.
He may have a few years ago, when he answered those folks with a 28-goal, 65-point first season in Minnesota. And he certainly put that to bed when he scored 42 goals and 76 points two years ago, a campaign that earned him a trip to Tampa as the Wild's All-Star in 2018.
Now, Staal is all about soaking up the moment with his wife, Tanya, and his three hockey-crazed boys Parker (10), Levi (8) and Finley (5).
For Levi and Finley especially, who weren't around to see some of Staal's best years in Carolina, it's an opportunity to hang with their dad and create memories that will undoubtedly last a lifetime.
At least that's what Staal hopes.
While Parker and Levi were old enough to really take in all the sights and sounds in Tampa a couple of years ago, Finley probably wouldn't remember much.
But now that he's five, like his older brothers, he'll have memories to take with him as well.
"And hopefully it's good memories and fun times," Staal said. "[Finley] keeps asking, 'when are we going to St. Louis?' It's on his radar and it's fun to hear.
"This will be fun. This will be special. [The boys are] tuned into NHL Network in the mornings, they're watching the highlights and they're paying attention. So to be able to enjoy the experience with them, that's what makes it extra special for sure."
Staal, who will be the oldest player at this year's event, said he's taking these kinds of honors in stride and trying his best to enjoy every last minute. Now 35, and with more than 1,200 games and 1,000 points under his belt, Staal knows he is closer to the end of his career than he is to the beginning.
Which makes honors like these all the more enjoyable.
"I think maybe there is a little bit more perspective on it," Staal said. "When you're young and you're just starting out, you just don't ever see the end of the NHL days. You're just playing it and loving it and having opportunities and enjoying them.
"Now, when you're a little bit later in your career, there is a little bit more perspective like, 'Hey, this has gone fast and these are moments you need to enjoy.' I think that's where I'm at in my career, I feel like I've still got some game left, I can play, I can be effective and important to my team's success.
"But when you're given an opportunity to do something like go to an All-Star Game, you have to have perspective and know that this is a great opportunity and it's a fun time to enjoy and take in with your family."