The venues have changed, but the spirit of the NHL All-Star Game has remained the same over Eric Staal’s 16-year career: a summit featuring hockey’s most talented players.
“Any time you get recognized like that, you feel a little bit like you’ve taken that step,” the Wild center said. “But you’re always trying to do better.”
Staal’s appearance in Saturday’s game in St. Louis comes during a season in which he cleared 1,200 games and 1,000 points on a probable path to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
But the 35-year-old is still excited to attend his sixth All-Star Game because he’ll experience it with his wife, Tanya, and sons, Parker, Levi and Finley.
“That’s something that we can share together,” Staal said. “That’s special.”
Here’s a look back at his previous All-Star appearances:
Dallas 2007: First-timer
During his second season, Staal captured the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes after leading the NHL in playoff scoring.
By Year 3, he was an All-Star — making his first appearance at the midseason exhibition in Dallas.
Staal scored in the game and, at just 22, he was already emerging as an up-and-comer in the league — a reputation he wanted to maintain.
“We were coming off a Stanley Cup championship, and then being recognized as an elite All-Star, that meant a lot to me,” Staal said. “I was excited and honored to be there but also wanted to keep proving myself and keep showing that I should be there and showing that I should be among the All-Stars in the league.”
Atlanta 2008: Show stopper
Staal’s second invitation to the midseason game, ended up with his being named the game’s most valuable player.
After scoring two goals and assisting on the game-winner in an 8-7 thriller for the Eastern Conference, Staal was gifted a Dodge Ram truck; he kept it and gave his car to his parents, who live in Thunder Bay.
“I had it for a lot of years,” he said. “It was fun. It was a fun truck. That weekend was a lot of fun. It was a pretty cool game.”
Montreal 2009: Three-peat
The reigning MVP was back and, although he handed off the title to the host Canadiens’ Alex Kovalev, Staal still made an impact in the game by scoring a goal.
Montreal also left an impression on him.
“It was really, really cold,” he said. “I remember just walking to a couple restaurants and feeling like my ears were going to fall off.”
A three-year run at the All-Star Game also mirrored what was going on in Staal’s career at the time with the Hurricanes.
He signed a seven-year contract extension before the season started, embedding himself as a reliable fixture with Carolina, and Staal would go on to reach the 40-goal plateau for the second time.
And that prowess came up clutch in the playoffs, where Staal buried 10 goals to lead the Hurricanes back to the Eastern Conference finals.
“[The team] kind of turned it on right toward the end of the year and got rolling,” he said.
Raleigh 2011: Captain Staal
Although he took a break in 2010, Staal’s stature continued to grow in the NHL.
He was named captain of the Hurricanes during 2009-10 and then went on to captain one of the All-Star teams when the showcase stopped in Carolina in 2011.
The NHL used a fantasy draft to decide the rosters this year, and Staal had the first pick — tabbing such teammates as Cam Ward and Jeff Skinner and his brother Marc, a defenseman with the Rangers.
His team fell short 11-10, with Staal scoring twice. But the weekend was a highlight for Staal, who had Tanya and eldest son Parker with him.
“A great memory in my memory bank because of the way the fans showed up, and I think the weather was beautiful,” Staal said. “Just the energy and the crowd, it was pretty awesome for me to be part of that with them.”
Tampa 2018: Triumphant return
Staal may have taken a seven-year hiatus from the All-Star Game, but plenty happened during that time.
He was traded by the Hurricanes, and his goal production started to wane.
In 2015-16, which he split between Carolina and the New York Rangers, he scored the fewest goals (13) since his rookie season (11).
Still, the Wild was hopeful and signed Staal as a free agent. And the team was rewarded for taking a chance on him.
After a 28-goal debut, Staal’s encore was 42 in 2017-18 and he was appropriately acknowledged for his resurgence by returning to the All-Star Game in 2018 in Tampa, Fla.
“That one meant a lot, for sure, from where I was at the couple years prior,” Staal said.
What also made this rendition meaningful was the fact Staal took in the sights and sounds with his three sons. The oldest, Parker and Levi, were even on the bench during the skills competition, jotting down the first, second and third-place finishers.
And that’s why going back again this year won’t be stale for Staal, because he’ll again have the time to bond with his boys.
“It’s transitioned and changed over the years with having kids and having boys that are into hockey and getting to share experiences like this with them,” Staal said. “That’s what makes it different and fun, and not a lot of guys get to do that. So, it’s pretty special.”