Full speed ahead for Staal Bros.

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

A home-made ice rink on a sod farm near Thunder Bay certainly turned into a sheet of dreams for the Staal clan.

It was here, on the very land co-owned by his father and uncle, that Carolina Hurricanes centre Eric Staal and his shinny-crazed brothers learned to hone their skills during the harsh northern Ontario winters.

While it might be premature to refer to the Staals as the Sutter family of the 21st century, they could be on their way.

The Sutters left their mark on the game by featuring six brothers reaching the NHL.

More than a decade later, there could be four Staal brothers in the league in the coming years, although that story still needs to be played out.

Eric, who turns 21 in nine days, already is making waves early in the 2005-06 season with a sizzling start that includes five goals and three assists in just five games.

Marc, 18, is a promising defenceman with the Sudbury Wolves. He was taken 12th overall by the New York Rangers in the 2005 NHL entry draft.

Jordan, 17, is a gifted centre with the Peterborough Petes who one NHL scout yesterday projected to be "a top-10, maybe a top-five pick" in the '06 draft.

BEST OF BUNCH

And Jared, who at 15 might just be the best of the bunch, is playing AAA hockey in Thunder Bay and is looking forward to putting on a good show in this, his OHL draft year.

These Staals are poised to become one of hockey's best- known families.

It starts, of course, with Eric, the second overall selection in the 2003 draft whose Hurricanes meet the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre tonight.

General manager Jim Rutherford credits some of Staal's early success to his year with Lowell in the American Hockey League, where he spent the lockout season.

"Obviously, since I've had the start I've had, I can say I really benefitted from my time there," Eric Staal said. "I played a lot of minutes and now I'm another year older. All those things play a role.

"I think I'm much more confident in my skating stride, too. I know now that I can use my speed and beat guys to the puck."

Staal's natural abilities have not escaped the notice of Pat Quinn,Wayne Gretzky and the rest of the Team Canada brass. His name was included on the list released yesterday of players being considered for an Olympic spot.

"At the pace I'm scoring, I'm sure I'll get a look," he said. "But there are a lot of guys in the same situation. Whatever happens, it's just nice to be mentioned."


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