It is summertime, six weeks before training camp, and Marc Staal is the picture of calm as he spends time with family on the lake near his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario. But beneath the calm exterior amidst this serene setting, the first still burns intensely inside of the Rangers alternate captain who hungers passionately for a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
“I was devastated the way it ended last year,” Staal told BlueshirtsUnited.com on Monday. “We made it to the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago and got a little taste of what we want and wanted to push it even further and couldn’t do it last year, so it was devastating. I want, and we want, to have the ultimate success in the playoffs.”
More than anything, that feeling is what is pushing Staal through his summer training. That, and the fact that he believes this current group of Blueshirts is a legitimate Cup contender.
“We have a talented and committed group here, and that’s all it takes to be a contender, but we‘ve got to still push through and win,” explained the 26 year-old Staal. “I have been in our room long enough to know that these guys want to win in the worst kind of way. I don’t think anyone in our room will be satisfied with anything less (then a championship).”
Staal, who has called this “one of the more normal summers recently” since he is feeling completely healthy and not dealing with concussion symptoms or a broken foot like the past two off-seasons, is training diligently every day to prepare for his first camp under the team’s new head coach Alain Vigneault. He was back on the ice and skating two weeks ago, already.
While he reports that he has not sought too many outside opinions on his new coach, Staal did chat with fellow Rangers teammate and Thunder Bay resident Taylor Pyatt, who played one season under Vigneault in Vancouver. However Staal says he is most interested in meeting Vigneault and building his own relationship with the coach this fall.
Staal has had several phone conversations already this summer with one of Vigenault’s assistants, Ulf Samuelsson, and he is thrilled that the former NHL defenseman and two-time Cup winner is on the Rangers staff this season.
“It’s going to be great learning from Ulf, and it will pay big dividends I think for all of our defensemen,” Staal stated. “He’s coached a long time and worked with a lot of different players. And obviously his vast experience in playing the game, and knowing what we go through on a day to day basis, will make him an important guy for all of this season.”
Samuelsson and Staal originally came in contact with one another during the 2006 AHL playoffs when Staal, then just 19 years old, was summoned from Sudbury in the OHL to play for the Hartford Wolf Pack where Ulf was serving as an assistant coach.
“Even in those couple of weeks he gave me some important tips,” recalled Staal. “I think it’s going to be great to have him here now. He played in the NHL for so long and he knows what he is talking about and is a very good coach and a good guy.”
While Staal is looking forward to playing for Vigneault and Samuelsson, and is excited to get the season underway, he is also excited about the prospects of being invited to Team Canada’s Olympic training camp and the possibility of representing Canada in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Selected to attend camp in 2009 but not chosen to take part in the Winter Games of 2010, Staal would be thrilled to play for Canada, likely alongside brother Eric---who won gold with Canada in 2010---and possibly with younger brother Jordan, as well.
“I was real excited when I got that call because to be one of the name’s on that list is a pretty big honor,” explained Staal. “My focus is on preparing myself for when the season starts to help the Rangers, but you also have to be at your best to even make that team (the Olympic squad). You have to be playing really well the first few months of the season, so that, for sure, will be in my mind and I’ll see where that takes me.”
For now, though, Marc Staal remains back home---in “God’s Country” as he calls it---for another few weeks before heading to Team Canada’s camp and then on to New York. And though he will enjoy the serenity of the summer, the passion to win in 2013-14 will not wane, will not go away.