Staal still stands tall

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

A smile crossed Peter Laviolette's face yesterday when the subject of centre Eric Staal came up.

The Carolina Hurricanes coach, who will double as the bench boss for Team USA at the Olympics, chuckled when he was asked if he'd like Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky to leave Staal off the national squad.

The chances for Staal and Jason Spezza may have improved with the loss of Martin St. Louis to a broken finger on the weekend. He won't return to the Tampa Bay lineup for a month and may not make Team Canada, which will be named on Dec. 21.

"They've got some tough decisions to make with guys like Staal and Jason Spezza," said Laviolette.

After spending last season with Lowell in the AHL -- just like Spezza -- Staal has been on fire this year. He went into last night with 12 goals and 16 assists for 28 points. The 21-year-old has been battling for the NHL's scoring lead since the first day.

"He's not the kind of guy who is going to seek attention," said Carolina defenceman Aaron Ward. "He's not a guy who is from Toronto and when he goes in there everybody wants to do a story on him.

"He's just been excellent and he's been great to watch. I'm not sure he likes all the attention he's been getting. He'd probably rather just focus on what is happening on the ice. That's the type of guy he is."

Staal learned about playing at both ends of the ice in the AHL and he has shown a lot of maturity with the Hurricanes.

"I got the chance to play and that was important," said Staal.


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