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Penguins

Hockey a family affair for Staals

| Monday, Sept. 11, 2006

Penguins prospect Jordan Staal remembers learning to drive.

His "car" actually was a tractor, and even though he just turned 18 on Sunday, it was quite a few years ago.

"As soon as you could reach the clutch, you pretty much could start working, so probably around 7 or 8 (years old)," said Staal, who grew up with three brothers on their family's 500-acre sod farm in Thunder Bay, Ontario. "We worked pretty hard. In the younger ages, we worked quite a bit. It wasn't a lot of fun, but it got the job done, I guess."

In those days, Staal and his brothers' dreams of making it to the NHL were played out on the 50-by-100 foot rink their father, Henry, built in the backyard. And, on Thursday, Jordan became the third Staal brother to report to an NHL training camp in the past four years.

Center Eric Staal, who was drafted second overall in 2003, is a star for the Carolina Hurricanes. Defenseman Marc Staal was selected 12th overall in 2005 by the New York Rangers. And the Penguins selected Jordan Staal, another center, second overall this past June.

Youngest brother Jared is 15 and already is considered an NHL prospect.

Growing up, work would start early on the family's farm, where Staal's grandfather settled after he emigrated from Holland (Staal means "steel" in Dutch) to Canada.

Jordan Staal remembers getting up at 7 a.m. in the summer to help out wherever he was needed that day.

"Whether it was riding the tractor or laying sod, I kind of just followed my dad around and did some work," he said.

When the Staals weren't hard at work or playing hockey, they were probably talking about it.

"We all lived and breathed it," said Staal, who at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds is the biggest of the four brothers. "My mom and dad enjoy it so much, and that's why they put us in the sport.

"Obviously, all four of us really enjoy it. There's usually always hockey talk around the dinner table."

Staal said yesterday that it probably didn't sink in that any of them would one day make it to the NHL until Eric was drafted.

"Before (Eric) got drafted, I was still young, and I didn't know really what was going on," Staal said. "Once Eric got drafted, I kind of realized he had a future in hockey, and he could really go somewhere.

"Once I got drafted, I knew what the feeling was and how amazing it is."

There's a good chance Staal will go back to juniors for another year instead of making the jump to the NHL this year. But he stood out during the first scrimmage of rookie camp yesterday as arguably the best player on the ice.

"I think one thing he needs to improve on is his skating, and if you watch him in drills, that's the first thing that stands out," said Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach Todd Richards, who's helping run rookie camp. "But then, you put him in a game situation (yesterday), and his skating wasn't really an issue.

"One thing that stood out was how he uses his size and his reach to his advantage. He's a strong kid."

Staal said the day he was drafted that he would play wherever the Penguins want him to this season, but he certainly wants to be in the NHL.

"I think I'm starting to get into my own groove and get some more confidence," Staal said. "Hopefully, I can keep building on that and keep going."

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