After eye injury threatens career, Red Wings’ Marc Staal gets Masterton nomination

Detroit News

Detroit — Marc Staal still hasn’t finalized the fishing trip.

When Staal played game No. 1,000 of his NHL career, on March 12 in Calgary, his Red Wings teammates gifted him a fly-fishing trip in Canada with his brothers.

One problem: Jordan, his brother and captain of the Carolina Hurricanes, is still playing in the NHL playoffs. And by the looks of it — the Hurricanes lead Boston, 2-0, in the first-round, best-of-seven series — he could be playing for a while.

“I kind of have to wait on Jordan,” Staal said when asked if there’s a date set. “I don’t know; he could be playing until June. We have to wait and see about that. It’s not easy to get the four of us in the same spot for the same amount of time.

“I have some work to do, but I look forward to it.”

Staal will figure it out, as he has throughout his career, overcoming obstacles to get to that magical 1,000-game mark (and beyond) despite a career that hasn’t always had a smooth path.

For Staal’s dedication and perseverance, he was nominated for the Masterton Memorial Trophy by the Detroit Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

The Masterton Trophy is awarded annually to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game.”

Staal, 35, has made it this far in the NHL despite a serious eye injury and multiple concussions.

“To be in the league and play this game as long as I have has been a blessing,” Staal said. “I’ve enjoyed every second of it and I don’t want it to end. I love this game and I have a lot of passion for it, and I want to continue that.”

Staal wasn’t sure where his career was headed after sustaining a scary eye injury on March 5, 2013. It was slapshot directly to his face, and as Staal was standing in the slot, he took the brunt of the shot square in his eye, as gruesome an injury as you’ll see.

Staal has had multiple concussions that forced him out of the lineup and each caused concern in its own right.

But it was the eye scare, which took Staal out of the lineup (save for one playoff game) until the following season that gave him pause.

“The eye injury was the biggest hurdle in my career as far as injuries go,” Staal said. “When that happened, I didn’t know what type of player I’d be or when I’d get back — or if I did come back.”

There was a physical and mental strain that Staal had to overcome.

“That’s something I had to work through and work hard and get back to the position I put himself on the ice and be counted on,” Staal said. “You never know in this game where injuries can take you. I’m very fortunate to get over that one and in a big way, and be able to continue my career.”

But there was a measure of doubt, uncertainty about whether Staal’s career had ended when the puck struck his face.

“There was a moment there that I didn’t think that was going to happen,” Staal said.

Eventually, the sight returned to a level where Staal was able to play and continue his career.

“Pretty much, probably a year after the injury, as good as it got, and it’s been staying the same,” said Staal of his vision. “It’s just something I’ve gotten used to and I’ve learned to play with.”

At this point of his career, Staal isn’t looking too far ahead. He’s reached the point where it’s on a year-to-year basis, with a growing family and the desire to settle down.

“I want to play as long as I possibly can, but at the same time, I have a family, obviously, and moving from city to city for years on end can get tiring,” Staal said. “Not just for me, but my wife and kids, and you have to take all that into consideration once you get near the end.

“I’m looking forward to playing again next year and then we’ll see what happens after that.”

Staal can be an unrestricted free agent but has not hidden the fact he would like to return to the Wings for a third season.

Staal expects to meet with general manager Steve Yzerman — who hinted after the trade deadline he could see re-signing Staal — in the next week or two.

But, similar to last summer, another deal may not be reached until closer to the start of free agency in July.

“He has to make a lot of decisions and he’s not going to rush anything,” Staal said. “I’m assuming he’ll wait until the summertime to do his business and when we get there, we’ll obviously see what happens.

“If there’s a fit there, we’ll go from there.”

Staal has provided the Wings a veteran presence, an able defensive defenseman, and sort of a mentor role to a shifting, younger roster.

“I’ve enjoyed playing the role I’ve had,” Staal said, “being with this team and building towards getting back into the playoffs. It’s just a fun place to come to work and I’ve enjoyed competing with these guys and playing for the Red Wings.

“It’s been a fun couple of years.”

Twitter: @tkulfan

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