Staal tactics: Brothers unite for Canes’ opener
Jordan Staal and his wife Heather were married on June 22, 2012 — the same day that he was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, where his older brother Eric is the captain.
That whirlwind day gave Jordan Staal some preparation for the craziness of the past week.
After a prolonged lockout forced teams to compress an entire training camp into six days, Staal will play his first regular-season game with the Hurricanes tonight when Carolina visits Florida (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports Carolinas).
“Has it only been a week?” Staal said Thursday. “Feels like it’s been a month.”
The Hurricanes’ opener, which starts a shortened 48-game season, is an event that many hockey fans thought wouldn’t come. The sport already had lost the entire 2004-05 season because of a lockout, and negotiating sessions between the owners and the players over the past few months seemed to make little progress on issues like revenue distribution and player contracts.
The two sides finally agreed to terms on Jan. 6, and the Hurricanes started training camp on Sunday. Instead of the regularly scheduled eight exhibition games, Carolina had just one intrasquad scrimmage before tonight’s opener.
“Our objective was to get one thing to focus on each day and to review the system and introduce it to some of the new guys,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. “Nothing replaces games, for sure, but I think everyone understands the system and the conditioning is about as much as we can do in a week.”
Muller, who is only Carolina’s third coach since the team moved from Hartford in 1997, was hired in late November when the team was in the midst of a six-game losing streak. After starting 8-17-4, the Hurricanes finished the season 25-16-12, but the slow start early put them in too big of a hole.
“Over the past couple of years, we’ve had slow starts and great finishes and just missed the playoffs,” defenseman Justin Faulk said. “We know the start’s important, especially with this shortened schedule.”
Coincidentally, the Hurricanes season finale also was at Florida, where the team wrapped up its 2011-12 campaign after failing to make the playoffs for the third straight season.
“We talked after that game,” Muller said. “We said, ‘Listen, we’re not playing tomorrow, we’re not practicing tomorrow because we missed the playoffs. Just think of how you feel right now.’
“We talked about it there and just said, ‘Next year, let’s start it off the right way and let’s reach and fight to get into those playoffs.’”
Carolina is trying to win back fans with discounted tickets and concessions this week. Tickets for the home opener Tuesday against Tampa Bay were 50 percent off, while hot dogs, popcorn and sodas will be sold for $1 and merchandise at the team store will be 50 percent off for the games on Tuesday and Thursday, when Carolina hosts Buffalo.
But the team knows that the best way to excite the fan base after the disheartening labor dispute will be to make another playoff run.
“It feels a little bit weird at the end of January to get the season started, but better late than never,” Eric Staal said. “We’re excited to put everything behind us and not think about it any more and just focus on getting wins in the column and getting back to the playoffs.”