RALEIGH, NC – Parents don’t usually want their children to be miserable. That makes the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs a very stressful time for Henry and Linda Staal.
“It’s hard for her. They’ve been cheering us on all year,” said Florida Panthers defenseman Marc Staal.
“One of us will end up very disappointed. Or two of us.”
Marc, 36, and his brother Eric, a 38-year-old forward, are teammates with the Panthers. Jordan Staal, 34, is the captain of the Carolina Hurricanes, which the Panthers face in the conference finals.
“We’re here in the best and worst case scenarios,” said Eric Staal.
It is the first time since 1992 that three NHL siblings have faced each other in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Back then it was Brent Sutter of the Chicago Blackhawks versus brothers Rich and Ron Sutter of the St. Louis Blues.
Now it’s Staals vs. Staal.
“Obviously it’s a bit surreal. We’ve been playing as long as we have and now we’re both getting a chance to get to the Stanley Cup finals,” said Marc Staal. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. I mean, we’ve spent our entire career playing against each other and then playing together. There is just a little more at stake now.”
Eric Staal (Carolina, 2006) and Jordan Staal (Pittsburgh Penguins, 2009) are past Stanley Cup winners. Marc Staal played for the cup once and lost with the New York Rangers in 2014.
Various Staals combinations have played each other in the playoffs prior to this season. Marc’s Rangers faced Jordan’s Penguins in 2008 and then Jordan’s Hurricanes in 2020. While Eric was still with the Hurricanes, his bid for a second 2009 Stanley Cup ended in the conference finals against Jordan’s Penguins before Jordan won his first ring in the next round.
Jordan recalls meeting Eric for a post-game handshake in 2009 – a meeting they will have again 14 years later.
“It is not easy. It’s never easy to end a brother’s season, but someone has to win,” Jordan said. “I don’t want to be the one who’s on the other side, so I’ll do whatever I can. It’s part of playoff hockey.”
As Marc said, the stakes are now higher for the Staal family. The brothers are nearing the end of their NHL journey. Eric just wrapped his 18th regular season and is on his fourth team in three seasons. Marc has just completed his 16th season.
“I was told that when I was 18 [former Hurricane] Ron Francis, that’s going to be quick,” Eric said. “Enjoy every moment. I remember those words because it went really fast. I’ve witnessed and experienced many ups and downs, but the joy of the game always burns within me. Sometimes it didn’t always look like that. But I’m where I am now for a reason.
With the stakes high and a hard-fought series between the Panthers and Hurricanes – a series that produced a quadruple overtime in Game 1 – Henry and Linda Staal will not be watching the games in person.
“My dad and mom are very excited but also very cautious,” Jordan said. “I think they’ll be hiding from you guys in the basement until the show’s done.”
Her brother Jared Staal, a 32-year-old assistant coach at Florida’s AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers, is expected to join the series.
“He’s 100 percent pro-Panthers,” joked Eric Staal.
And her people?
“I think my parents are pro-Panthers too,” he said. “They just won’t tell you.”
HENRY STAAL HAD a piece of land near the driveway to his home in Thunder Bay, Ontario. One winter he flooded it so his four boys could skate.
They ran… and ran… and ran some more. He couldn’t get her off the ice.
So he expanded this ice surface into a complete, self-built ice rink. There were floodlights on the sides that illuminated the ice at night. The top of the cushions were covered with chicken wire to keep the pucks in the field. Unfortunately, as the Staal brothers got older and stronger, more and more pucks flew into the turnips of his neighbors.
The brothers’ 2v2 matches were spirited, loud and often violent.
“We definitely had a few moments where the sticks flew. There were some stitches and some fights,” Eric said. “There were days when Mom had to tell everyone ‘enough’ and send us to our rooms. But afterwards we always figured it out.”
On the ice, Marc and Jordan took on Eric and Jared during the brothers’ daily series of 2-on-2 games on their wing. Off the ice, Marc stayed with Eric across the street from Jordan and Jarred.
“We are competitive in everything we do. No matter what happens,” said Marc. “Play darts, play golf, go fishing, whatever.”
Who takes the worst loss?
“Probably Eric. He’s probably taking it the worst.”
Eric said those competitive games were the spark that led to this current moment: three established NHL players battling for a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
“Our parents didn’t necessarily coerce or coerce us into it,” he said. “We just went out there because we enjoyed it, because we just enjoyed competing with each other and because we loved the game itself.”
Over the years, these struggles shifted from the makeshift rink to the NHL ice. The Hurricanes selected Eric second overall in 2003. Marc was selected 12th overall by Rangers in 2005. Jordan was picked second overall by the Penguins in 2006. Jared was selected 49th overall by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2008. He only appeared in two NHL games, with Carolina in 2012–13.
Eric, Marc and Jordan have played each other in the regular season throughout their careers.
“I think once we get into those games, it kind of gets kind of a blur and next thing you might just be in front of your brother and stuff like that,” Jordan said. “It doesn’t really change how I’m going to do things out there. I am sure that the same applies to her as well.”
Marc said the brothers rarely engage in trash talk on the ice, if at all. All they know is that they’re up against a familiar face.
“When your brother’s on the ice, you know he’s on the ice,” he said. “When you fight in front of the net you know it’s him, you know what I mean? It’s always a lot of fun. This series will be no different.”
But the series is a little different than most matchups. Not just because it’s the conference finals, but also because Eric, Jordan and Raleigh, North Carolina are involved.
A HURRICANES FAN held up a sign that read “ALL STAALS UNDER ONE ROOF BUT THIS IS JORDO’S HOUSE” during Game 1 of Thursday night’s conference finals.
Jordan Staal has played 11 seasons with the Hurricanes, totaling 742 games. He was the team’s co-captain in 2017–18 and was their captain from 2019–20 until this season.
“It’s family to me now,” Jordan said.
Two other former Hurricanes captains are involved in this series. Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour wore the “C” from 2005 to 2010 and captained the franchise’s only Stanley Cup winner. He was succeeded by Eric Staal, who played 909 games for the franchise in 12 seasons.
It was an uncomfortable time. The Hurricanes came close to going nine seasons without making the playoffs. Brind’Amour was playing his final NHL season. GM Jim Rutherford said it was time to hand the captaincy “to the man who will be leading this team for several years.”
Brind’Amour had the ability to veto the captaincy change. He did not do it.
“When they made that transition, he just said it was one of those things,” Eric said of Brind’Amour. “That I should take it and we’ll get through it together. And that’s what we did.”
“Our relationship was very close. Rod is one of those people who really cares about each individual. And honestly, as a young man, I tried to learn as much as I could from a man like him.”
Eric and Jordan were teammates until the elder Staal joined the Rangers in 2016 — he joined Marc in New York — and signed a free agent deal with the Minnesota Wild the following season off.
Her photos hang on the walls of the Hurricanes press floor. Eric celebrates a Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes. Jordan has many years of playoff success, if not a championship, at Raleigh.
“Jordan came here when I was here and we’ve been through a lot together. He’s earned the right to see the change that’s happened here and the change where they are,” said Eric. “They’ve had a great season, they’ve had a great run, they’ve played really well and he’s a big part of it. I’m proud of him for that.”
Marc and Eric knew there was a real chance they could face Jordan and the Hurricanes in the playoffs when the Panthers made their push towards the end of the season. “We could have played against them in the first round. And then we watched them come through on the other side.” [of the bracket]so we knew it was a possibility when we played Toronto,” said Marc.
On the eve of Game 1, there were a few messages exchanged between the brothers in their text chain. “We wrote about the parameters of the series. A little bit about how we’re going to do things,” Jordan said.
In the playoffs, players form stronger bonds with their teammates and stay together as a group. The Staals noted that there would be no fraternization with the enemy during the series.
There were no congratulations. The text chain has fallen silent for the foreseeable future.
“I probably won’t see them outside the stadium much, which is totally fine with me. No texting on game days,” Jordan said. “We’re all just looking forward to being here and being a part of it.”
It’s about a lot. One or more of Henry and Linda’s sons will be emotionally devastated in the near future. But years later, memories will linger on of an unusual and, for three brothers, surreal moment in the NHL’s sibling rivalry.
“It’s things we’ll never forget. It’s memories we will always have,” Jordan said. “We are blessed to be where we are as a family. It’s just a really cool thing.”
“I haven’t played a playoff series against a brother in a while. We will kiss afterwards and make up.”