Staal 'thrives for these situations'
Hurricanes GM likes Canadian's chances in Olympic gold-medal game
Jim Rutherford is happy millions of fellow Canadian hockey fans are getting a glimpse of what he sees on a daily basis.
The Carolina Hurricanes general manager has been impressed with play of his centre, Eric Staal, who has improved with each of Canada's games at the Olympic tournament in Vancouver.
Despite juggling lines, Staal enters Sunday's gold medal game against the United States eighth in Canadian scoring with six points in as many games on a goal and five assists. The 25-year-old is also fourth among all players with a plus-6 rating.
"It's something I'm used," Rutherford told CBCSports.ca, in reference to Staal's ability to adjust to any situation. "It's part of what makes him as good as he is. The other part is he thrives on that big game. He's a big-game player.
"He showed it with us when we won the Cup [in 2006] and we had the good run last year [in the Eastern Conference quarter-final] when we eliminated New Jersey [in seven games].
"He thrives for these situations so he's not sitting there thinking he should be playing with a certain two players. When he goes over those boards he's ready to do something."
Staal was the left-winger on a line with centre Sidney Crosby and Jarome Iginla that produced many scoring opportunities in Canada's 3-2 semifinal win over Slovakia on Friday night. In Wednesday's quarter-final, he earned an assist with a beautiful cross-crease feed to Corey Perry in a 7-3 rout of Russia.
Staal arrived in Vancouver having recorded at least one point in 13 of his previous 15 games, including an 11-game points streak (10 goals, seven assists) from Jan. 16-Feb. 5.
The improved play coincided with Staal being named Hurricanes captain on Jan. 20 and his return to good health after missing 10 games with an upper-body injury. He scored only three goals in Carolina's first 20 contests after tweaking a groin at the Olympic summer evaluation camp.
Besides dealing with injuries, the Thunder Bay, Ont., native took a leave of absence in early January following the death of his sister-in-law.
"When he was named captain," said Rutherford of Staal, "he took that with great pride and responsibility."
The 61-year-old GM said the quiet Staal had been ready for an increased role for some time.
"Eric's always been a guy that reaches out to his teammates or other people," Rutherford said. "He's one of the last guys off the ice at the morning skate on the day of a game and at practices he stays out there with the fourth-line guys and fools around."
On Monday, Staal will return to a Hurricanes team on the outside of the playoff picture, despite a five-game win streak.
"I'm proud that he's with our organization," said Rutherford. "He's a franchise player and he's going to lead this team into the future."
For now, Staal will try to lead Canada to a gold medal in Vancouver.