Late last month amid concerns of rising COVID-19 cases, the NHL and the NHLPA came to an agreement not to participate in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.
Despite the limitations, Canada will still field a men’s hockey team loaded with talent, headlined by 17-year NHL veteran Eric Staal.
Staal hadn’t been playing in the NHL this season and was therefore eligible for selection. The 37-year-old center last played in the NHL last season with the Montreal Canadiens, with whom he lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning in July.
Staal will join other Canadians like Mason McTavish, Jack McBain and Owen Power, the latter being the top overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
A new chapter in our Olympic hockey history.
Following in the historic footsteps of those before them, 25 men will embark on a journey to bring home Olympic gold for 🇨🇦.
— Hockey Canada (@HockeyCanada) January 25, 2022
“The process was different,” Team Canada head coach Claude Julien told The Canadian Press. “With today’s video, we had a pretty good grasp on all of the players and what they could bring.”
Added Staal, “This seems like a great group. Love the look and the balance we have.”
Canada won bronze in men’s ice hockey at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, after winning gold in 2010 and 2014. Staal was a part of that 2010 team, and the championship made him a member of the unofficial “Triple Gold Club” — players who have won Olympic gold, a world championship and a Stanley Cup. Staal won worlds with Team Canada in 2007 and a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.
Drafted second overall by the Hurricanes in June 2003 (five months after McTavish was born), Staal during his time in the NHL has amassed 1,034 career points (441 goals, 593 assists) — one of the few to hit the prestigious 1,000-point mark — in 1,293 career games played. He’s been to the NHL All-Star Game six times and was named MVP in 2008.
Staal has been able to prepare for his trip to China by playing with the AHL’s Iowa Wild.
— Staal Family Foundation (@staalfamily) January 25, 2022
The oldest of four Staal brothers who have all earned NHL contracts, Eric was the first to leave his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario, in pursuit of hockey stardom, followed by Jordan, Marc and Jared. All the brothers live on a firm foundation of faith.
“Any time you move away from home — especially at a young age — you just never know what to expect,” Eric told Promise Keepers Canada in an interview with his brother, Jordan, in 2018. “I was only 15 when I first [started playing on a junior hockey team], but was fortunate enough to get involved with the chapel program there, which set me on my way.
“Obviously nowadays our schedules are pretty jam-packed. My wife and I do enjoy getting together with others outside of church for small group studies or reading sessions, but sometimes that doesn’t work out with me having games and practices nearly every day. So just sitting down with some teammates and the chapel leader is another great alternative if I can’t make it out to church back home.”
When Eric won the Stanley Cup in 2006, he took the massive trophy back to Christian Reformed Church, his church in Thunder Bay. He’s also an avid supporter of Hockey Ministries International to this day.
“Hockey season is always a busy time — it’s a long year and sometimes it’s tough to find that study time, but when I do, it’s always great and refreshing,” Staal told Promise Keepers. “It’s a chance to try to live our lives for God and show our fans and teammates that there are better things up above. It just becomes a way of life after enough time.”
Even as Staal’s winter just got busier, he will look for quiet times to spend with God in His Word.
Staal and Team Canada will play their first game at the 2022 Olympics on Feb. 10 against Germany. They are also scheduled to play the United States on Feb. 12 and China on Feb. 13 in pool play.
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