Eric Staal has collected a lot of hardware during his NHL career

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:02 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- In the basement of the now-legendary Staal household in Thunder Bay is a family Wall of Fame that continues to mushroom in stature, if not wealth.

Dangling are four gold medals won by the remarkable Staal boys in various international competitions, each one preciously earned while they proudly were wearing the Team Canada maple leaf on their respective chests.

Marc, a defenceman with the New York Rangers, leads the way with two of the prestigious mementos, those coming thanks to a pair of titles from the world junior championships.

Jordan, a forward with the Pittsburgh Penguins, is represented as well, collecting his shiny bauble during Canada's world hockey championship crown earlier this year.

As for Eric, the elder statesman of the Staal NHLers at age 23, he also won gold alongside Jordan in Russia during the spring. But for the talented young forward of the Carolina Hurricanes, the most coveted prize has yet to be achieved.

"An Olympic gold medal. Can you imagine?" Eric said yesterday at the Hurricanes practice facility.

Judging by the way his face lit up at the mere mention of the subject, finding space on the wall for one of those sacred keepsakes would be no problem at all.

Make no mistake. While Eric's immediate goal is to help his Hurricanes attempt to win their second Stanley Cup in three seasons, the prospect of being named to the active roster of the 2010 Canadian Olympic team is something that immediately brings a huge smile to his freckled mug.

"Obviously it would be a dream come true, especially with the Games being held in Vancouver," he said. "I don't think it could possibly be any better than that.

"The Olympics are definitely a goal of mine, a dream of mine."

Eric, in fact, lived the so-called Olympic experience in Turin back in 2006.

Sort of.

Eric, Ottawa Senators forward Jason Spezza and Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Dan Boyle were members of Team Canada's taxi squad. Sure, it was a great experience being in Italy in the midst of so many world-class athletes but, well, when you never have the opportunity to step onto the ice in a game situation, it leaves a guy wanting.

Imagine being a kid who gets taken to the local Toys "R" Us a week before Christmas only to be left standing on the outside of the display window. So close, so deliciously close, and yet so far.

TRIED TO FIT IN

"It was kind of neat to be in the Olympic village," he said. "And we tried to be a part of the team -- as much as you can be when you are on the taxi squad.

"But let's face it. We wanted to play. I wanted to play."

Staal's aspirations to contribute in 2010 are backed by Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour. No stranger to Olympic competition, Brind'Amour represented Canada at the 1998 games in Japan, collecting a goal and two assists in six games.

"I sure hope they (pick Eric)," Brind'Amour said. "If he goes, that means he's been putting up huge numbers for us, and I'm all for that.

"He's a great player who will only get better."

Staal busted out during the Hurricanes' championship campaign of 2005-06, achieving elite player status by reaching the elusive 100-point plateau thanks to a 45-goal, 55-assist performance. Like many Carolina players, his numbers dipped the following season, partially due to that cursed ailment known as "The Stanley Cup Hangover," but his 30 goals and 40 assists certainly were nothing to scoff at.

Entering tonight's game against the Maple Leafs at the RBC Center, Eric has pieced together a respectable total of 28 points in 34 games. More importantly, it is his maturity both on and off the ice, especially in physical terms, that is noticeable, according to Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette.

At the time of the Turin Games, Eric was a gangly stringbean with a baby face that drew comparisons to Howdy Doody and Doogie Howser. While his appearance above the neck may not have changed much since that time, the look below it certainly has.

"He's come a long way, especially in terms of his physical development," Laviolette said. "We could tell that when he arrived at training camp this year. Of 51 players that we tested, he was the fifth-most fittest."

Eric understands the scrutiny Team Canada will face on home soil in 2010. With an entire nation glued to each and every shift, nothing less than a gold medal will be acceptable for the hosts.

It's a challenge that, given the chance, he welcomes. After all, there is a special place on the wall back home in northern Ontario just waiting for an addition.

"No question, there will be tons of pressure," he said, grinning from ear to ear. "But it will be something else, won't it?"


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