THUNDER BAY -- Two seasons ago Marc Staal’s hockey future was in doubt.
Coming off a concussion and then a serious eye injury, Staal had to prove himself all over again to a fickle hockey world ready to write players off at a moment’s notice.
A steady presence on the New York Rangers blue-line, the 27-year-old Thunder Bay native proved his detractors wrong, helping to lead the club on a surprising, but unsuccessful run to the Stanley Cup final this past spring.
Staal, who can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 NHL season, said the five-game loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the final still hurts.
He’s watched older brother Eric bring home a Stanley Cup ring in 2006 and younger brother Jordan turn the trick three years later.
He really wanted to make it a family trifecta.
“It’s there. It’s going to be there for a long time. It’s a tough, long way to go to fall short,” Staal said during last week’s Staal Foundation Open, a PGA Tour Canada event his family foundation lent its name to as a way to raise money for local charities.
“It’s a great experience to go that far.”
It’s not like the Rangers were overwhelmed against the Kings. They owned two-goal leads in each of the first two games of the series, and went to overtime in three, including the Game 5 clincher in Los Angeles, a game they led 2-1 through 40 minutes.
That makes it all that tougher to swallow, Staal said.
“We could have been up two,” he said, playing the what-if game. “That was a big factor in the series. I thought Game 3 was our best game and we lost that game and we were down 3-0 and fighting for your lives. But that’s the NHL playoffs. It’s an incredibly fine line between winning and losing games and we just weren’t able to get it done.”
Though Staal has been the subject of trade rumours this summer, he’s preparing to head back to New York in the fall, where the retooled Rangers are looking to build on last year’s success.
Gone are the likes of Brad Richards, Benoit Pouliot and Brian Boyle up front, and Anton Stralman on the blue-line.
They’ve brought in forwards Lee Stempniak and Matthew Lombardi, but made their biggest free agent splash on July 1, signing former Canadian Olympian Dan Boyle to a deal.
There’s speculation the stay-at-home Staal might make the perfect partner for Boyle, an offensive minded defenceman known for his wandering ways.
Staal said he’s not sure who will be paired with who come October, but welcomes Boyle’s veteran presence to the line-up.
“He’s obviously been a great player for a very long time and still is,” he said. “He’s very talented on the offensive side of the puck. Obviously I’m not sure what they’re going to do in terms of pairings, but I’m excited to get to know him as a teammate and we’re excited to have him. He’s a great power-play guy and he’s going to be a huge help for us.”
The seven-year veteran had three goals and 11 assists in 72 games for the Rangers last season and has 27 goals and 111 points in 460 career NHL games, all with New York.
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