Staal on sibling rivalries, March Madness and hockey's best player
At age 24, Eric Staal already is a grizzled veteran of the NHL: an All-Star Game MVP, a Stanley Cup winner and one of the league's true iron men. In this edition of Facing Off, Staal talks about the tough start to his season, what it's like to be an EA Sports cover boy, and how the Staal brothers hope to establish themselves as hockey's first family.
Question from David Amber: You won the Cup as a 22-year-old. Two years later, do you appreciate that accomplishment more?
Answer from Eric Staal: Yeah, I'm very proud of what we did, and now having gone through some down periods since then, I realize even more how tough it is to win in this league. A lot of things have to go your way. First thing, you have to get to the playoffs, then you still need 16 wins. We need a team effort to get back there, but I definitely appreciate what we did.
Q: What has it been like to be near the league leaders in shots on goal without it translating into production?
A: It's been frustrating. I've had so many scoring chances, but the puck isn't finding the back of the net -- not just for me but for so many guys on our team. Eventually the pucks will go in. I have to just keep working hard. When it happens, the goals will start to come in bunches and things will change fast.
Q: Last year two of your brothers, Jordan and Marc, met in the Eastern Conference semis. What was that like for you, and who did you cheer for?
A: It was fun to watch, but tough for me because we came so close to making the playoffs. But to be able to watch those guys compete in the playoffs and play so well, it was fun. I didn't cheer for either of them, to be honest. They actually were matched up on the ice a lot. Jordan had the game winner one game and Marc was on the ice, so as a brother it was bittersweet.
Q: With Jared also on the NHL horizon, there will soon be four Staal brothers in the league. How much do you notice when you're on the ice against one of your brothers?
A: You notice every time. They're pretty good players, so you need to keep an eye on them or they can do some damage against you. We're all competitive guys, so every time they're on the ice, I recognize the situation. It makes it fun, but no one wants to lose to their brother.
Q: Would you ever drop the gloves with one of your brothers?
A: [Laughs] I don't know. I think I would just start laughing if it ever came to that. I remember against Marc at [Madison Square Garden], we were up by a couple of goals with the time running out and we were in the corner, and I got him in a headlock and I was laughing. I couldn't stop laughing. He got really mad at me, but we didn't drop the gloves.
Q: Your youngest brother, Jared, was selected in the second round by the Coyotes. What advice did you give him going into his first NHL training camp in the fall?
A: I just told him to keep his mouth shut and his eyes open. I told him to work as hard as [he] can and pay attention to some of the older guys, like Shane Doan, Ed Jovanovski -- guys like that, who have played a long time. He did that, he had a good camp and now he's back at junior. And hopefully next year he'll get the chance to play in Phoenix.Q: How tough was it for Jared to go back to junior knowing the success you had right away in the NHL?
A: It's hard. For all my younger brothers, the success I had early, getting drafted and playing right away brought more attention to them, so they've had more pressure. I think they have all done a tremendous job. Jared is the youngest, and he gets way more attention on the ice even at junior because guys know who he is, so he has done well considering all the scrutiny he has faced.
Q: What do you think it would take for the Staal brothers to be considered in the same category as the Sutters, the Mullens and the Stastnys?
Eric Staal -- Quick Facts
• Staal was selected second overall by Carolina in 2003 NHL draft.
• He has three brothers in NHL: Jordan (Penguins), Marc (Rangers) and Jared (Coyotes).
• He was named MVP of 2008 NHL All-Star Game in Atlanta.
• He led Carolina in goals (38), assists (44) and points (82) last season.
• He signed a seven-year, $57.75 million contract with Carolina that begins next season.
A: A lot more years and some Stanley Cups. You have to win championships to be considered with those names, obviously. Those guys all had long careers and were winners. We all want to have long successful careers, and it would be awesome to be mentioned amongst those names.
Q: When I interviewed your brother Jordan last year, he said of all the Staal brothers, you are most likely to be a fan of Dr. Phil. Is that true?
A: [Laughs] No, not really. My wife watches it from time to time, but not me. That is ridiculous. I'll have to ask him about that [laughs].
Q: College basketball is so huge in Carolina. What's it like during March Madness?
A: It's crazy. There are a lot of teams within a few miles that are all in the mix every year to get to the Final Four. I went to some games last year. It was really cool.
Q: Last time I interviewed you, you said you're an NC State Wolfpack fan. So does that mean you despise Duke and Tar Heel fans?
A: [Laughs] No. I can't hate them. There are too many Hurricane fans that are also Duke or UNC fans. I have to keep everybody happy. But the Wolfpack play in our arena, so I give them the slight edge.
Q: Playing in a city where college hoops, football and NASCAR are so popular, what do you think the players can do in nontraditional hockey markets like Carolina to keep hockey profitable during this economic downturn?
A: The No. 1 thing is try to make the game entertaining. People appreciate hard work, and if they're a fan of the game and they're going to spend their money, they expect to see guys playing hard and they expect to be entertained. That's what we're trying to do. Also, in the community it's important we go out and try and help those that are less fortunate than us.
Q: Who is the best player in the game today?
A: Right now I would say [Evgeni] Malkin. I think he's playing the game with so much confidence. He's making plays that not a lot of guys can make. They have a great one-two combo with [Sidney] Crosby and Malkin. On the power play they're lethal, and I think overall Malkin is playing the best in the league right now.
Q: The San Jose Sharks have had one of the best starts in NHL history. What has impressed you most about them so far?
A: They've been great. They are consistent night in, night out. They play every zone well, their special teams have been solid. They are definitely the team to beat. We haven't played them yet, but every time I watch them on TV I think they are the best team in the league.
Q: You were picked as the cover boy for EA Sports' NHL 08 video game. What was that like?
A: It was so much fun. We grew up playing video games, especially the hockey games, so to be on the cover is pretty wild. It was a real thrill. I also got to meet the guys who created the game, and that was cool too.
Q: So when you agreed to do the cover, did you ask them to make you the best player in the game?
A: I tried to, but they didn't. I guess if I keep improving in the real game, I will get better in the video game too.
A: I have a PlayStation 3 online, and each of my brothers has one too, so we can play against each other just like back when we were kids on the couch, except you're [online] with a headset on.
Q: So when you play your brothers, you play Carolina and they play their teams?
A: Yeah, we talk a lot of trash too. It can get pretty intense. We're not video game nerds, but we do play, yeah.
A: [Laughs] It would be a lot less painful, but my guy in the video game is just as smart as I am on the ice, so he won't fight.
Q: Were you worried about a cover jinx, like with the Madden game?
A: Yeah, they asked me about that when I agreed to do it. But I told them [Alex] Ovechkin was on it the year before, and he didn't seem to have a problem scoring 60 goals. So I said I wasn't worried about it.
Q: True, and you are one of the game's great iron men. You haven't missed a game in three seasons. How do you explain your endurance?
A: I'm a competitive guy. I just want to play. Not to say I haven't been banged up, but I've tried to make sure my body is ready to go for each game. Off the ice in the weight room, I try to stay strong and focus on staying healthy. I have learned a lot of tricks from guys like [Rod] Brind'Amour and [Cory] Stillman on how to get my body ready. So I copy what they do, and so far it's worked.
ESPN reporter David Amber is a contributor to ESPN.com.