As a special part of the Sudbury Wolves 50th anniversary celebrations, the local hockey club paid a high honour to a former member of the team Friday when his hockey sweater was officially retired from the Wolves roster.
The event was in honour of Florida Panthers defenceman Marc Staal, who as a 16-year-old from Thunder Bay was drafted by the club in 2003 and played four outstanding seasons in Sudbury.
While some nay-sayers will scoff and call it a jersey, which is the generic term for any sports top (football, soccer, basketball), the term sweater is unique to Canadian hockey.
Staal, 36, was back at the Sudbury Arena Friday night as sweater No. 14 was hoisted to the rafters to join the retired sweaters of other hockey stars that played for the Wolves in past years.
Staal played 236 regular season games for the club between 2003 and 2007, scoring 23 goals and adding 100 assists. In addition he played 50 playoff games over the course of his time with the club.
“We have had many great players wear the Sudbury Wolves jersey and Marc is amongst the best,” said Rob Papineau, Sudbury Wolves VP and general manager, recently. “He had an amazing career as a Wolf, leading the team to the OHL finals in his final year and earning the Playoff MVP award."
Staal, who attended the event with his wife and family members, said thinking back to his first days in Sudbury, he could never imagine such a tribute would ever happen.
"Coming to Sudbury as a 16-year-old kid with dreams of playing in the NHL, I never thought I would be standing back on this ice with my family some 20 years later, receiving this incredible honour," Staal told the crowd.
He also thanked team owner Dario Zulich and Club GM Papineau for giving him the honour that few players receive.
"The future is bright for this team and this city and I am grateful and humbled to be a part of it forever," said Staal.
He also thanked former Wolves owner Mark Burgess and his family for the support and confidence they showed when Staal was a teenager.
Staal also expressed thanks to former head coach Mike Foligno, whose sweater is also retired and on display at the Sudbury arena.
"Mike taught me a ton about what it was going to take to be an NHL player. He pushed me and my teammates hard, every single day, to be at our absolute best," said Staal.
He also said thanks to his billet family, Tom and Sharon Rioux, who opened up their home when Staal played for the Wolves, who he described as fantastic people and said he was lucky to live with them for four years.
"And lastly I would like to thank the fans," he said.
"The people of this city have supported this team and organization for 50 years," adding he was always proud to wear the Wolves sweater.
He said he had memories of the excitement and buzz of the fans in Sudbury and the Sudbury Arena when the team advanced to the OHL finals in 2007.
"So please continue to support this team and the players in this community. They won't forget it and will look back at their time as a Wolf and be forever grateful for your cheers and support," said Staal.