RALEIGH, N.C. – Carolina Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal prefers to stay out of the limelight.
That’s hard for a professional athlete to do.
But Staal is as low-key an individual as there is considering you can’t miss him amongst his teammates standing at six-foot-four-inches tall with a solid frame carrying 220 pounds, give or take.
Playing the role as one of the Hurricanes’ alternate captains, he never refuses to answer questions posed to him and he doesn’t overthink or overstate the response.
Preceding Carolina’s most recent 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Friday, Staal had scored at 2:54 of overtime to lift the Hurricanes to a 1-0 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday.
It was his third extra-period marker of the season and established established a Hurricanes/Whalers franchise record.
His previous two overtime game-winning goals came on Nov. 7 against Ottawa and on Jan. 9 on the road against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“No, I didn’t,” Staal said when asked if he realized that he set a mark that was all his own in the Hurricanes’ record annals.
With captain and brother Eric Staal establishing significant achievements with the team throughout his career, the younger Staal appeared uncomfortable responding.
Not that he didn’t want to, but that it was directly posed as a question of an individual accomplishment versus that of one relating to the team as a whole.
“Ahh, I never knew about it until you told me,” he continued.
“Umm, I don’t know, I mean, to be honest, it’s very minor to where I want to be as a team and what we want to accomplish that way. Obviously, it’s always nice when you’re personally playing that well to get those acknowledgements, but ultimately you’re doin’ it to win games to help the team.”
Winning games in overtime is critical to a team that has lost its share of them, coming short of cinching a second point that would make all the difference while remaining in the hunt for a wildcard playoff spot in the NHL standings.
With the adjustment to a 3-on-3 format and more open ice to use while driving hard off the wing to fend off a defender and then sniping a shot past the opposing netminder, Staal has now become Carolina’s biggest threat in those situations.
“There’s a lot of room out there,” Staal said.
“It’s a little simpler game – a lot of man-on-man. So, when you get a jump on a guy, then you go. I wouldn’t say when it gets to 3-on-3 that I’m chompin’ at the bit. I’m always out there playin’ and when the opportunity comes and I’m fortunate to get it, I’ll step forward. I think it’s a fun game, it’s open ice so I can use my speed a little bit and use my body. Once you get a step on a guy you’re gonna have a great opportunity which makes for a simpler game for myself.”
There’s no arguing the fact that Staal’s work with linemates Andrej Nestrasil and Joakim Nordstrom has cemented the team’s identity of the style of play that head coach Bill Peters has been preaching to play since he took over behind the bench.
As Staal and his linemates have worked as a group to improve the Hurricanes’ ability to possess the puck – effectively cycling it and winning puck battles to wear opposing defenses down – he is bearing the fruits of his labor to show his true ability in being a dominating power forward.
“He’s a big man and when he winds it up, I don’t know how you stay with him 1-on-1,” Peters said.
“If he gets a half a step on you at his size and strength, and he’s a powerful skater, he’s gonna beat you to the net and that’s what you see happening. He’s drivin’ to the net, turnin’ the corner, beatin’ guys 1-on-1 or he’s gettin’ a half a step on somebody, if you’re tryin’ to stick check those guys, that doesn’t work. It’s like an arm tackle in football, it just doesn’t work. When there’s lots of room and open ice and he’s movin’ his feet and workin’ hard, he’s very impactful.”
“I think my style of game has always been to lean on guys in the offensive zone and wear teams down to create momentum for the team,” Staal added.
“It may not be a goal every time, but when the top lines are playin’ defense in their zone, it’s always a good thing for our team and what I try and do every night.”
Tied for second with four others in the league in overtime goals behind only Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, Staal’s ability to score with a game on the line can only put more hope in Hurricanes’ fans minds as to who the go-to guy is to carry the team to victory during its current push to earn a playoff spot.
Even more so, imagine what the feeling would be like if Staal had the opportunity to net one of those extra-period markers in a postseason game.