‘Fortunate and grateful’: Red Wings’ Marc Staal on precipice of 1,000th NHL game

Detroit News
Steve Kornacki |  Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — Red Wings defenseman Marc Staal is on the doorstep of a longevity milestone. When Staal steps on the ice Saturday night in Calgary against the Flames, it will be the 1,000th game of his NHL career.

“It’s a cool milestone to get to,” said Staal, who played 13 seasons for the New York Rangers and the last two for Detroit. “I’ve been fortunate and grateful to play in this league for a long time, and have the health to get there.

“Joining my brothers (Jordan and Eric) in that category is pretty cool as well. It should be a fun night.”

This will mark the first time three brothers have all reached the 1,000-game plateau in the NHL.

“It’s pretty special,” said Marc, an NHL All-Star in 2011. “I really haven’t been able to talk to my brothers about it yet. But our family growing up, we loved the game, played it, and just kept following each other up the ranks. And then, for us to be able to play as long as we have in this league has been special.

“It’s something we don’t take for granted. We’re very aware of how lucky we are, and so it’s a cool thing, for sure.”

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Eric, now retired after playing for five teams, leads with 1,293 games. Jordan is next with 1,069, and he reached 1,000 with the Carolina Hurricanes in a 3-1 win against Marc and the Red Wings on April 13, 2021. Eric sent his congratulations with a video board message that day in Raleigh, N.C., and Marc was able to take part in the ceremony.

They’re all from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada – the sons of sod farmers Linda and Henry Staal – who built a hockey rink on their 600 acres.

Marc said his parents will be in Detroit for the Wings’ next home game against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 22, when the team honors him for hitting the milestone. The Wings have asked the Flames to recognize Staal in-game Saturday with what likely will be a brief announcement after a whistle.

David Greene of National Public Radio asked the Staals in a 2009 interview how they produced four sons who so excelled in hockey.

“You’ll have to ask my wife that,” said Henry. “She thinks she’s the athlete.”

Linda then added: “I don’t know that answer. They’re just – they’re just a talented bunch of boys. I can’t take too much credit for that.”

All four of the brothers are exactly 6-foot-4, and the three who reached 1,000 games each were high first-round draft picks. Jordan (2006, Pittsburgh) and Eric (2003, Carolina) both went No. 2 overall. Marc was selected No. 12 by the Rangers. Jared, a second-round pick by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2008, played in two NHL games and currently is an assistant coach for the Orlando Solar Bears in the ECHL.

Marc, known for not only his size but speed, is the lone defenseman in the family, with Jordan and Eric playing center and Jared right wing. The brothers have combined for 737 goals and 1,838 points. Eric easily leads the way with 441 goals and 1,034 points.

Eric, 37, is the oldest with Marc, 35, next. Jordan is 33 and Jared 31.

Marc received a holding penalty against Jordan March 1, when Detroit beat Carolina, 4-3, in overtime.

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“I knew it was him, obviously,” said Marc. “He’s 6-4, 230 (pounds). So, I’m leaning up against him, and I could feel it. It was a bad penalty, a bad call. He’s laughing in my ear as he’s falling down. So, it tells you what he thought about the call, too.”

Staal came to Detroit from the Rangers via trade Sept. 26, 2020, and has been the subject of trade rumors with the March 21 deadline for deals approaching. He signed a one-year contract with a no-move clause before this season, and so his pending free agency factors heavily into whether or not the Wings move him now — even before his 1,000-game feat can be honored at the next home game one day after the deadline.

“I like it here,” said Staal. “Obviously, in the next couple weeks, we’ll see what happens, and if something comes along that’s a great fit, and (Detroit general manager) Steve (Yzerman) wants to do it, I’ll look at it.

“But as I’ve told you guys before, I enjoy playing here…You never know what’s going to happen at the deadline…There have been some good stretches and bad stretches. But it’s been a fun team to compete with and work hard with.”

Staal leads the Red Wings with a plus-9 rating, and is one of only four players on the squad not in the minus category. He has one game-winning goal and nine assists for 10 points this season, and has 47 goals and 208 points for his career from the blue line.

“First off, that’s a great milestone,” said Detroit coach Jeff Blashill. “Marc’s had to work through some injuries to get to that milestone. So, he’s been a great addition to our hockey team. First, on the ice he’s done a good job for us. I think he’s played good hockey. I think he’s a really, really smart, big, strong player that we don’t have a lot of those big, strong men like that. So, he’s helped us on the ice.

“From a leadership perspective (as an alternate captain), he’s been great. I think he’s a great sounding board for a guy like (25-year-old captain) Dylan Larkin because of what he’s been through in the league. So, I know Dylan bounces lots of thoughts off him. I think he’s got a great demeanor to him. He’s calm but competitive, and shows up to work every single day.”

Staal’s professional approach comes in handy when teams begin struggling, as the Wings (24-27-7) have in four consecutive losses.

Blashill added: “When you to through different trying times, you need guys to be great examples for young players – how you’ve got to work your way through it.

“And regardless of any nagging injuries, he’s out there for practice, and he works his ass off every day. I have the utmost respect for Marc Staal.”

Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.

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