For Red Wings’ Marc Staal, return to New York brings back flood of ‘great’ memories

Detroit News

New York, N.Y. — Sure enough, it felt different Thursday for defenseman Marc Staal returning to Madison Square Garden.

Staal played 13 seasons for the New York Rangers before being traded to the Red Wings ahead of the 2020-21 season.

Because of the pandemic, and the resulting scheduling differences, Thursday was Staal’s first trip back to New York.

“It’s strange,” Staal said after the morning skate, talking about returning to the rink that was home for a long time. “It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been back here. It’s different coming in as a visitor, for sure. But such a great building, a lot of great memories here. It’s really fun to be back.”

The Rangers never won a Stanley Cup with Staal, but the team was consistently a playoff threat and won many exciting series filled with drama and excitement.

Playing in New York, during that time of year, left an impression with Staal.

“We had a lot of playoff wins in this building, a lot of big games, great memories that way,” Staal said. “I played for a lot of good teams here and the energy in this city around this place, around that time of year, is pretty awesome. I was lucky enough to be part of really great hockey teams playing here.

“You’re right in the mix in downtown Manhattan and it’s a crazy city. When you have success and start to roll, you can just feel it wherever you go, even in Manhattan, with many people in the city you still get recognized more and people get excited for playoff hockey. It was always a fantastic place to go on a run.”

Staal, 35, has been a welcome addition to the Wings since being acquired. He’s provided the veteran calmness, on an off the ice, the Wings needed and savvy that a young defensive corps needs.

“He’s brought great leadership, a guy who comes every day to work, and even on the days he doesn’t feel great, he still practices hard whether he’s injured a little bit, or not,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He wants to be out there. He’s got a good way about him as a person, guys rally around him, and he’s brought leadership and experience and he’s still brought good play.

“He’s a big man who thinks the game well and still in my mind is a real good defenseman. He’s been a real good addition for sure, and I can see where in his prime here in New York, he would have been a helluva defenseman here for these guys. I know he was, and there’s a lot of success around this team for a long period and he would have been a big part of that.”

Staal can be an unrestricted free agent after this season. Staal could be moved at the trade deadline, although he has a no-trade clause and it’s doubtful he’d be interested in going to many places. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Wings re-sign him for another season, given his comfortable level around the organization and what he can provide.

“I came into a good situation in Detroit,” Staal said. “I was here in New York for a very long time and had a fantastic bunch of years, and the trade came at a good time. I’ve really enjoyed myself in Detroit.”

Returning to New York brought back one specific memory for Staal: playing in his first NHL game in 2007.

“Attaining that dream as a young kid was pretty special in this building, I remember a lot about that night,” Staal said. “That was pretty big. (Jaromir) Jagr and (Michal) Rozsival (former memorable teammates), it was a way different team but it was so cool. Just driving to the game, I was incredibly nervous.

“A long time ago now, but a great memory.”

Vrana update

Forward Jakub Vrana (shoulder surgery) will begin the next stage in his rehabilitation, with some controlled contact, but Blashill wouldn’t give a specific timetable on a potential return to game action.

Vrana injured himself his first training camp practice, had surgery, and has yet to play this season.

“He’s getting closer,” said Blashill, adding Vrana will be in a “controlled environment, introducing contact, so over the course of (about) two weeks to get to where it’s full contract. I don’t want to put a direct timeline but it’s a start of the beginning of the end and hopefully we get him ready to play in the next little bit.”

Blashill said Vrana hasn’t been totally cleared, but “let’s start getting into controlled contact and it’s progression, the progress starts with him initiating contact in a real sterile one-on-one environment and him receiving contact.”

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Ice chips

Defenseman Filip Hronek returned to the lineup after missing two games because of COVID-19 protocol, and forward Vladislav Namestnikov (undisclosed injury) was set to miss his second consecutive game.

… Staal spoke with his older brother Eric, who captained the Canadian Olympic team. Canada was eliminated by Sweden in the quarterfinals.

“He was enjoying himself and enjoying the experience,” Marc Staal said. “They didn’t get the result they wanted in losing, and now he’s open to seeing what happens next. He’s not expecting too much. He’s coming back home and seeing his family, and go on from there. Hopefully he gets a chance to jump on a team and go on a good (playoff) run.”

Twitter: @tkulfan

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