Jordan Staal raised his stick above his head with both hands, standing at center ice, triumphant.
Call it the first Storm Surge of the new season, if only a solo celebration. Or, maybe, just a frivolous moment during a casual skate.
The Carolina Hurricanes captain joined several players on Friday for voluntary practice at Invisalign Arena, taking part in a four-on-four mini-scramble. Staal’s red team won, hence the brief mock celebration.
“A big game and a big win for us,” Staal joked. “A good start.”
Staal, who turned 34 on Saturday, finds it hard to believe he’s about to start his 11th season with the Hurricanes and in the final year of his contract. The memory of his trade to Carolina from Pittsburgh in June 2012, donning a red Canes jersey for the first time and signing a long extension still feels fresh at times, even after a decade.
“It’s crazy, right?” he said on Friday. “So many good things have happened and just being part of this community and this city has been a blessing to me and my family. This is where I want to be.
Staal raised his eyebrows after the Canes’ second-round Stanley Cup Playoff loss to the New York Rangers. During his exit interview with the media, he said: “I will complete this contract. Eleven years is a long time here and it has been special. I’m going to do it next year and hope to finish it on a high and go from there.
Staal clarified on Friday, saying he does not expect the 2022-23 season to be his last with the Hurricanes or in the NHL. Not this sort of end.
“I’m delighted to stay here,” Staal said. “Whether we make a deal now or later or whatever, I think my home is here and this is where I want to be.”
It’s safe to say that Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour will want him to stay. The big center remains one of the best defensive forwards in the league and has taken on the responsibility of carrying the “C” as captain very well.
“He’s been leading the way for a while now. It all starts with him,” Brind’Amour said last season.
Among the skaters on the ice Friday with Staal were Sebastian Aho, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Jordan Martinook, Jesper Fast and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Some will also play for the Canes in Carolina’s 2022 NHL Prospects Showcase.
The Hurricanes’ preseason camp begins shortly after the Prospects Tournament, with the team adopting a different look after a 2021-22 season that Staal and everyone associated with the organization say ended too soon.
One of Staal’s teammates last season, winger Nino Niederreiter, is gone. Center Vincent Trocheck and defenseman Tony DeAngelo are also gone.
“You never really know what to expect,” Staal said. “Every summer there are changes. You hope to keep the same team, but business is business and the ceiling is the ceiling.
Staal smiled, adding: “And I’m not the oldest player in the team anymore.”
The Canes traded for defenseman Brent Burns, 37 — “He’s a beast,” Staal said — and signed free agent Paul Stastny, who is 36. They also traded for Max Pacioretty, although the veteran striker could be out until February after an Achilles injury that required surgery.
“We have signed players who we hope can really take the team forward,” Staal said.
It should make for a very competitive training camp. The Canes signed forward Derek Stepan on a trial deal and on Friday defender Calvin de Haan signed a PTO.
Staal said he spent much of the summer in Thunder Bay, Ontario, his childhood home. One of the highlights of the offseason was joining his brothers for a round of golf at Pebble Beach, a gift Jordan received as part of his 1,000th career game ceremony in 2021. Staal said that he had birdied the seventh hole – the picturesque par 3 – and shot 81 .
Staal hopes there will be three Staals in the league this year. Defenseman Marc Staal is with the Florida Panthers. Staal’s older brother Eric has a PTO with the Panthers. The former Canes captain is trying to work his way to a new contract at 37 after a successful stint as captain of Team Canada at the Olympics last winter.
“He has to show he has what it takes and he can play,” said Jordan Staal. “I’m biased, but I believe he can do it.”
Watching the end of the 2022 playoffs after the Game 7 loss to Rangers was tough, Staal said. The Canes lost all six road games in both playoff rounds after a regular season in which they were 25-12-4 on the road winning the Metropolitan Division with 116 points.
It stung. This season, Staal would like to lift the Stanley Cup, as he first did with the Pens in 2009 — two-handed, triumphant.
“You want to make the playoffs and you want to have a chance,” Staal said. “Things have to click and you have to get a little lucky and all those things. We will keep pushing and pushing to go further and further.