Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of profiles on the Carolina Hurricanes’ players and staff designed to give people a better look at the players behind the pads. We’ll be asking them about hockey, of course, but also about life — hobbies, interests, special moments — to better understand what makes them tick.
Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes will soon play his 1,000th career regular-season game and will do it as the captain of the Hurricanes. In an exclusive interview with Chip Alexander of the News & Observer, Staal gives his thoughts on the milestone, on wearing the “C,” and a glimpse into other parts of his life and career.
Chip Alexander: You’re coming up on your 1,000th career game. Is is hard to get your ahead around that number?
Jordan Staal: “No, I mean I’ve been playing for a long time, so it goes by fast, for sure. I mean it is what it is. I don’t know, it feels like I’ve been playing for a long time but at the same time it feels like it goes fast. So obviously it’s an accomplishment and you see a lot of guys go through it. It’s been a lot of fun. There’s been a lot of amazing people for me along the way. I’m excited to kind of get it over with, though.”
CA: Two brothers in the league. Which is your least favorite to play against?
JS: “That’s a good question. I guess Eric. I think just because you’re in each other’s face a little more off the draws. He’s the same position so you want to outplay the guy. So it makes for more of a battle. He’s very good for what he does at center so I try to push my standard to another level. Probably Eric but Marc can be really annoying as well. Obviously a very good defenseman so he’s made it hard on me over the years. We’ve played a lot of hockey against each other but he was more playing against the top lines so I didn’t see him too much in Pittsburgh. A little more in Carolina. But it’s been fun over the years playing against those guys.”
CA: You’ve been called “Gronk.” Where did that come from and do you like that nickname?
JS: “I think it started with Colby Armstrong and I think it came out in my first year (in Pittsburgh). I can see why. Coming in as an 18-year-old at 220 pounds, it’s kind of unusual. Guys kind of jumped on that pretty early, pretty quick. I don’t know if it stuck right away but I know ‘Army’ rode it as long as he could. It was a little unusual coming in as big as I was and as young as I was so it was kind of a fitting nickname, I guess.”
CA: Any significance to always wearing No. 11?
JS: “It’s actually been pretty amazing I’ve had it pretty much my whole career, since I’ve been a kid. Obviously with guys with tenure and guys wearing it a long time I’ve been fortunate to have it. I think the original thought and I’ve had since I was 5 or 6 years old so I don’t know if I had a decision then. But my dad always wore 12 and Eric wore 12 so maybe I went with the next closest number, is my guess, is how I stuck with 11.”
CA: In June of 2102 there was a big event in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Which was the most memorable moment, your wedding ceremony or finding out you had been traded to another team with all your Pens teammates there?
JS: “Yeah, it was a weird day. A lot of emotion. I remember talking to my wife, then my fiance, saying, ‘You figure out this one day and I’ll try to figure out the rest of our lives here.’ I knew something might be happening and talking a little bit with my brother (Eric) and trying to decide our future. It just so happened that it happened in the middle of our entree.
“It was an interesting night. It turned out to be better than I thought being able to hang out with these guys. A trade in the summer you don’t usually see anybody, maybe get a couple of texts and a couple of calls. Being able to be there and having a great night and having a few drinks ad being able to reminisce a little bit and talk about the future and being able to hang out with those guys actually turned out to be better than being alone in that summer trade.”
CA: What’s the best thing about being a father?
JS: “There’s a lot of amazing things about being a father. Personally I would say experiencing stuff all over again. When they see a fire fly or a shooting star or even a bus driving by they haven’t seen before, it always seems they’re experiencing it for the first time and you get to do it with them. That’s always a fun thing. And then obviously just teaching them your values and how you carry yourself day to day and knowing that they’re watching you every day and learning from you is something I take pride in. My kids have been an absolute amazing joy to be around and my wife’s done so much work when I’ve been gone. It’s been an absolute blessing and I love being a Dad.”
CA: What’s been the best thing or most challenging thing about being a team captain?
JS: “I guess the best thing is just in having that honor and knowing the coaching staff and the organization trusts you to be that guy. There are only so many captains throughout NHL history to put that on and be a leader, and the expectations to be a leader is a great honor.
“And it’s challenging. It’s an every-day thing. You’ve got to bring your own work ethic and your day to day stuff. It’s not just about you when you have that ‘C.’ It’s about trying to make sure everyone’s pushed and making sure everyone’s taken care of and you kind of have an eye on all the guys. You’re trying to make sure everyone’s good. It’s a fun thing when you get older to realize how a team ticks and it’s challenging and some days I’m not very good at it and some days I’m very good at it. It’s been a really cool ride and I’ve been very blessed and very happy to be a part of the leadership group here.”
CA: Where do you keep your 2009 Stanley Cup ring and when was the last time you wore it or looked at it?
JS: “I can’t remember the last time I looked at it. I’m not a big guy into that stuff. I think it’s at my parents house, to be honest with you. I’m not quite sure where it might be but obviously the memories is what I take out of that stuff. There’s no greater memories and no better feeling than to accomplish your lifelong dream with guys you love battling with, the guys you love playing with. Having that same feeling here and building toward that and hopefully make a push here is what we want. We’ve got guys in this room I love battling with, playing with, and that makes it fun. That makes it that much more worthwhile if you get to the end.
CA: What makes you most proud about the work of the Staal Family Foundation in Thunder Bay?
JS: “We were talking for almost too long about trying to get something together and we finally pulled the trigger. It was Tanya’s sister. Tamara, and what she went through and eventually passed away. That kind of sparked our family to get involved with that and kids with cancer. And especially in Thunder Bay that’s been overlooked a bit, I think, and there was a big niche for us. We were excited about doing that and it kind of grew into a cool little golf tournament that we started in Thunder Bay and raised a lot of money. We’ve done a lot of good stuff with different charities there in Thunder Bay. It’s just really cool to give back to Thunder Bay in general. It will always be our family’s hometown and we always want to be a part of the community there as best we can and that was one way of doing it.”
CA: You’re into fitness and conditioning but everyone as a sin food. What’s yours?
JS: “I’m a sweets guy for sure. I think just a good old-fashioned chocolate chip cookie is my go-to. Or just chocolate in general I think is my sin food. But I like sweets of all nature for sure.”
CA: You have had a very good season. What’s the strength of the team in your mind?
JS: “I think our strength is our competitiveness. I think we’ve got a lot of guys in this room who understand it’s a long season but if you bring that competitiveness every night you’ve going to have a good chance to win. Obviously Roddy (Brind’Amour) is the No. 1 guy for that and he’s brought that on and brought that culture in for that, but we’ve got guys that know how to do that. Some nights it’s ugly but some nights it’s that competitiveness that kind of pushes us over the top. that gets us that extra little shot or extra chance to win the game and I think that’s our strength.”