Perhaps sporting combinations of brothers playing at the same time in pro sports would include baseball’s Joe and Dom DiMaggio or John and Pat McEnroe in tennis.
However Thunder Bay’s current brothers-in-arms — Eric and Jordan Staal — are helping push their respective teams to the second round of Stanley Cup playoffs. Eric with the Montreal Canadiens and Jordan playing in Carolina with the Hurricanes.
Hockey writer Pat Hickey sang praised Eric’s game following Montreal’s 5-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets in Game 1 of the North Division final on Wednesday night. Eric scored the Canadiens’ second goal early in the first period.
It was interesting to note at that point Eric had three points in his last four periods of Stanley Cup play, including two assists in Monday’s Game 7 upset of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Quite a pace. The Canadiens are recording over 54 per cent of all possible scoring chances.
Meanwhile in Raleigh, N.C., Jordan scored a blue collar goal in the second game of their Central Division final series against the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Although Carolina took it on the chin, losing 2-1 in spite of a frantic ending in which Jordan almost scored the tying goal. Carolina won 3-2 in overtime on Thursday to cut Tampa Bay's lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Jordan has come through in the clutch so far. The Hurricanes’ defining win during their previous series was highlighted by Jordan’s scoring that helped eliminate the Nashville Predators in the first round.
Eric, 36, and Jordan, 32, have reminded everyone why Thunder Bay deserves its place on the NHL’s map of hockey. Both are past Stanley Cup champions and have been making an impact, along with brother Marc, in the league collectively for over 15 years.
Yet so impressive has been their rise to becoming all-stars there are always moments to look back to their own hockey cradle in learning the sport.
Their father Henry diligently constructed and maintained a homemade rink on the Staal family sod farm every winter. Maintained as the first snowflakes fell with its consistent dimensions of 50 feet by 100 feet where all four of the Staal boys (fellow NHLer Marc and former pro Jared round out the Fab Four) played.
While Henry’s adept ‘rink rat’ skills were highlighted often during national television broadcasts where what he had developed was discussed as the indelible format forging hockey careers all four pursued.
After the boys moved away from Thunder Bay to develop their individual talents in pro hockey, Henry has a fitting way of expressing the benign vacuum both he and his wife Linda were left with.
As a youngster, Henry had dreams of playing one day for the Maple Leafs. That didn’t happen though he left his own career mark in the sport while playing for Lakehead University’s varsity team.
Yet when Henry Staal remembers the years his boys played shinny every night in winter he recalls, “they played 2-on-2s. They wouldn’t quit until darkness fell. They were all determined. And they were not quiet on the ice. Everyone was so eager.”
Sometimes, the brothers themselves have to step back and admire the view.
During a chat with Jordan a summer ago while back home with us, he recalled, “One night Eric and I are sitting together watching Marc play for the New York Rangers and realizing Marc and I would be battling each other later that week . . . How quick time goes by, eh?”
This week when I asked Linda about her appreciation of travelling to NHL cities to see her sons play she said, with a mother’s compassion, “It’s always a thrill. Always will be.”
Ronn Hartviksen is a Thunder Bay-area writer, whose most famous production may be an outdoor rink called the Bean Pot, where the Canadian Olympic team once skated.