Canadian Eric Staal may not have made it back to the National Hockey League (NHL) this season, but a ticket to next month’s Beijing Games has proven the ultimate silver lining.
The 37-year-old forward helped the Montreal Canadiens reach the Stanley Cup finals last season but was unsigned this year, joining the American Hockey League’s Iowa Wild earlier this month in the hope of earning a spot on Canada’s Olympic roster.
“The goal was initially to get back in the NHL,” said Staal. “Having the finish that I did with the Habs and getting all the way to the finals, I figured, you know, I’d stay in shape and kind of see what was what is out there… obviously, this opportunity was something that is too good to pass up.”
Had he succeeded in earning a place on an NHL roster, of course, he would not be Beijing-bound.
The top-flight North American league pulled out of the Winter Olympics in December, citing the disruption to its season caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead Staal, who was picked first overall by the Carolina Hurricanes nearly two decades ago, is settling in as something of an elder statesman on the Canadian roster, with team mates as young as 18 and 19.
“As an older player, as an experienced guy, it brings out a little bit more energy and excitement,” he told reporters.
“I cherish every moment I’m on the ice, especially in this type of setting. But when you add a couple of young guys and the talent that they have, it’s a treat and you enjoy it.”
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Toby Davis)