BY SCOTT HUNTER HADDOW
Sudbury Wolves defenceman Marc Staal's presence and skill is enough to galvanize a team into winning big.
The Wolves organization acknowledged Staal's impact by naming him team captain upon his return from the New York Rangers training camp last week.
In Staal, the Wolves arguably have the best defenceman in the OHL, and one of the best in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). And, he's ready to lead the team to glory.
"Being named captain of any team is huge and it's a big honour for me to be the captain of the Wolves," said Staal. "This will be a challenge for myself to lead these guys and do the best job I can. I want this challenge because I expect more from myself and so do my teammates and coaches. It's definitely the job I want."
Staal plans on leading by example.
"My best attribute is setting a good example on and off the ice," said Staal. "I will show up every game and practice and work hard to do what has to be done."
Staal had an immediate impact on the Wolves in his first game back from the Rangers. The Wolves had lost their first game of the 2005-06 season to Erie 5-1 and, at times, looked lost. Staal played in the second game against a sound Ottawa team and stabilized the entire team. He scored a goal and helped keep the Wolves in the game until the bitter end, which was a 4-3 loss. Even though the team didn't win, the veteran defenceman made a huge difference. The player looked more confident on ice, and the defence played a more solid game.
It was an easy decision for Wolves head coach and GM Mike Foligno to name Staal captain.
"Marc's work ethic on and off the ice and knowledge of the game at this level is tremendous," said Foligno. "He displays a drive and will to win every time he plays. Marc is all about improving as a player and working with his teammates to win, and those are a few reasons why we decided to make him captain."
Staal has world-class skill and attitude.
"Marc's vision is terrific," said Foligno. "He can find outlets, especially from the defensive zone. He can handle the puck and carry it, all under pressure and with speed. His positioning is excellent. Not too many teams get good opportunities to score when he's on the ice. Marc takes a lot of pride knowing he will compete against the opposing team's best players. He's really competitive and that has allowed him to excel at this level."
Staal, like all OHL players, craves an OHL championship and a berth to the Memorial Cup. He also wants to improve his already flawless game, which is bad news for opposing snipers looking for an easy goal.
"I want to contribute more offence while still playing strong defence," said Staal. "To do that, I need to contribute more on the power play and jump up on rushes when it's the right time."
Staal had an eye-opening experience with the Rangers.
"It was great to get my feet wet at the NHL level with those pros," said Staal. "It was a great confidence booster to keep getting better."
Wolves' assistant coach, Bob Jones, who played defence in the OHL in the 80s, has coached for Sault Ste. Marie, Brampton and Toronto. He's worked with plenty of high caliber defencemen like Rostislav Klesla, Jay Harrison, Richard Jackman and Nathan McIver and Jones knows a good thing when he sees it.
"Marc is right up there with some of the best defenceman I have ever coached, if not the best," said Jones. "Marc is a number one defenceman in this league. I firmly believe he has the attributes to be a number one defenceman in the NHL one day."