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Four brothers following a familiar NHL tradition
Evan Grossman | Staff Writer
Feb 13, 2007, 12:00 PM EST

On April 7, 1997, Wayne Primeau dropped the gloves and fought his older brother, Keith, when things got testy in Sean Burke’s goal crease in an NHL game between the Sabres and Hartford Whalers. Their mother was not pleased.
The scrap between those siblings though was nothing compared to the horseplay that went on in the Staal house in Thunder Bay, where Eric, Marc, Jordan and Jared grew up. With the smallest of the Staal boys standing 6-foot-2, the house, walls and all, also took its share of abuse with the brothers leaving behind the odd dent here or a crack there from the wars at home.

“There’s a few,” Eric Staal, the oldest of the four, says. “There was a glass table with a big pane that was busted with a football. Lot of little things. We would be in the basement. It was an unfinished basement and we would play roller hockey down there and we’d hear our mom screaming, ‘Stop yelling at each other!’ We’d get into it pretty good.”

Such is life at home with so many brothers.

“We weren’t too much into wrestling, but there were a bunch of fist fights and stuff like that,” Jordan Staal said. “There was always something going on with the parents yelling.”

“Controllers thrown,” Eric said, referencing some video game battles between the boys. “Stuff like that.”

Now, it wasn’t thermonuclear war in the house, by any means. But like any good hockey game, life in the Staal house got a tad chippy every now and again.

“A lot of fighting, but not to the point where you’re making the other one hate you,” Eric said. “It was the same as probably any house full of brothers. There was some stiff competition, it didn’t matter what we played. It made for keeping your head on a swivel every time we were doing whatever with each other. It was a good time.”

The Staals, as with any group of brothers, had their share of good-natured clashes. There was a time when the younger boys would follow the older brothers around and want to play with the older boys. Again, nothing new there either, as far as tough brotherly love goes.

“We had the outdoor rink and we would have some friends over and the younger guys were trying to jump in and join,” Eric said, “but it was obviously a lot of fun.”

While it was hard work keeping each other at bay, the people with the toughest jobs in the Staal house were their parents, Henry and Linda, who probably could have closed down the family sod farm and started a bus company with all the miles they logged getting the four boys to and from practices and games growing up.

“I don’t even know how they did it,” Eric said. “I think it was just all spur of the moment things, getting rides and getting all of us to different arenas, to school, practices. I give them a lot of credit for battling through it. We’re very grateful, all four of us, for that.”

The parents’ scolding has turned to cheering the last few years and the Staal family will have plenty more to shout about when, eventually, all four brothers are playing in the NHL. Right now 22-year-old Eric is in Carolina, and 18-year-old Jordan is a rookie with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Two more Staals, 20-year-old defenseman Marc, and 16-year-old Jared, are both playing in Sudbury this season and will soon be regulars in the NHL like their siblings. Marc was the 12th overall draft pick of the Rangers in 2005 and is in his fourth season with the Wolves after an impressive training camp with the Blueshirts in September and a 12-game cameo with AHL Hartford in the playoffs last spring in which he recorded a pair of assists.

There was a time when the Sutter family was the best known clan in hockey during the 1980s, but the Staals figure to be the next first family of the sport when all four boys are playing in the NHL.

Eric already has won a Stanley Cup as an important piece of the Carolina championship puzzle last season. This year, the 6-foot-4 forward has 23 goals and 50 points and has the Hurricanes looking forward to another deep run in the playoffs.

Jordan, the biggest of the four brothers at 6-4 and 215 pounds, has been an instant sensation in Pittsburgh in his rookie year. There was some talk of sending the youngster back to junior earlier in the year to protect the Penguins when he’s eligible for free agency down the road, but his play and a league-leading five shorthanded goals through Feb. 8 made him an important piece of that team’s success. The Pens, with other youngsters like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, are poised to make their first playoff appearance together this year.

While half of the Staal boys have found quick success at the NHL level, the other two boys have had an equally impressive impact for the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario League. Marc, a 6-foot-3 defenseman earmarked to patrol the blue line at Madison Square Garden as early as next season, had five goals and 28 points in 41 games this season, his fourth in the OHL. Jared, who turns 17 later this year, had two goals in 52 games in his first season in Sudbury. It’s likely that Jared, the youngest of the four, will get even bigger than the 6-2, 185 he’s currently listed as.

So who is the best of the four?

“I’ve always said it’s me,” Eric said with a smirk. “I was always the oldest growing up, so I was always ahead of everyone else. This year it looks like we’re leveling out.”

As usual, the boys disagree when Jordan plainly says, “Me,” in response to the question of who the best Staal brother is. Easy now, boys. We don’t want another glass-table incident.

Brothers have been a part of hockey for almost as long as the puck has been a part of the game. Through the years the NHL has had over 220 sets of brothers play in the league.

Every sport has its brother combinations. Baseball had the Boones and the DiMaggio boys. Basketball had the Barry boys. Football has the Barbers and the Mannings. In lacrosse, there were the Gaits and the Powell brothers. Previously in hockey, the Sutters reigned as the supreme set of brothers as the family sent six boys – Brent, Brian, Darryl, Duane, Rich and Ron -- to the NHL.

It’s been that way all through the frozen history of the game. In the 1920s, there were the legendary Patrick brothers, Lester and Frank, who helped shape the game as it’s played today. They played in the same era as the Boucher boys -- Frank (who centered a line with brothers Bill and Bun Cook at one time), George “Buck,” Joe, Bobby and Billy. Ironically, Frank Boucher replaced Lester Patrick as head coach of the Rangers prior to the 1939-40 season.

All three Bentley brothers -- Doug, Max and Reg -- played for the Blackhawks at the same time, going down as the first set of three to all play for the same team. Farm boys from Saskatchewan and a family of 13 total children, Hall of Famers Doug and Max formed two-thirds of one of the great lines (nicknamed “The Pony Line”) in Chicago history between 1940 and 1947.

In the 1960s the Hull brothers, Bobby and Dennis, were the best known siblings in the NHL.

Peter, Anton and Marian Stastny later all played for Quebec to become the second set of three brothers to wear the same jersey together. Peter’s two sons, Yan and Paul Stastny, are currently playing professional hockey as well.

In hockey, sibling rivalries seem like they’ve been stitched in the fabric of the game. Three of the NHL’s all-time leading scorers, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Gordie Howe all had brothers also play in the league. So did Mario Lemieux and Marcel Dionne.

“It gives that added little push,” Eric Staal said when asked why so many sets of brothers have played in the NHL. “It makes you want to do better.”

Mathieu Biron once scored a goal against his brother, Buffalo goalie Martin Biron. Phil Esposito also scored on brother Tony Esposito and the pair is one of six sets of brothers in the Hall of Fame.

Joel and Henrik Lundqvist, identical twins, faced each other in a game for the first time this season when Joel’s Stars took on Henrik’s Rangers. Joel didn’t fare as well as Biron did against his goaltending brother.

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