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Published July 13 2012

Staal teams up with Cullen one more time at charity golf tournament

Oxbow, N.D. - A chance to see an old friend and play some golf is a common activity in the summer.

But doing so Friday wasn’t so easy for NHL star, Stanley Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Eric Staal.

The Carolina Hurricanes center and his wife drove from their summer home in Thunder Bay, Ont., to participate in the Cullen Children’s Foundation golf tournament at Oxbow Country Club.

Before teeing off with close friend and Minnesota Wild center Matt Cullen, Staal talked about his trip south, his relationship with Cullen and his thoughts on NHL free agency.

Q: Matt Cullen said to me last night you guys were really close. Why is that?

A: We played together in Carolina and won a Stanley Cup together, and when you go through an experience like that you grow close. My wife and I became close with Matt and Bridget. Later in the year, we lived across the street from them, and their little guy, Brooks, would come over and ask for candy. You want to make sure you stay in touch with people you care about.”

As far as coming here, did you decide at the last minute?

“We knew we wanted to come down here. We try to meet up together once a year. We had a plan to come down here for the last couple of weeks and surprise them. They didn’t know we were coming. It was a surprise for them.”

So at (Thursday’s auction), I was told Bridget Cullen cried when she saw you and your wife. But then, your wife won a game where she got a diamond ring. Who do you think got the better end of that deal?

“(Staal laughs.) They both made out pretty good. For my wife, it was a good reward for the long drive down. It was such a great night and a great time and a great event. It was fun to be a part of.”

Looking at free agency, the Wild had a big splash and you (the Hurricanes) had a big splash. How does getting your brother Jordan (from the Pittsburgh Penguins) change things?

“It adds a big piece. When you can add a 6-4, 220-pound center, it is great because those don’t come around often. We were hoping to make a bigger splash as we were trying to get (top free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter who signed with the Wild), but those guys had other plans. They have a good group of guys there. For us, we are excited to add Jordan. Maybe we can add another piece.”

With Jordan getting traded during his wedding, at what point during the ceremony did your family find out about it?

“It was during the reception and we just finished dinner. We knew Carolina had the eighth pick and we figured if he was going to Carolina, it would be around then. Our agent (was at the wedding) and he came up and told us. It was pretty shocking at first. It hushed the room and everyone was figuring it out with their phones. After that, it was a great night for all of us.”

What’s the opinion of guys in the NHL of what the Wild have done in free agency?

“They had some definite talent already and to add two marquee players is huge. It would have been huge to any team, but to a team that has (Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu) and Matt, it is huge. They are going to be a team that will compete for a division title. They deserve what they got. They are at the primes of their careers. We wish them the best.”

Here’s a question no one probably ever asks you at all: Now that you, Jordan and your youngest brother, Jared, are all in the Carolina system, what’s it going to take for your brother Marc to come over?

“(Staal laughs.) He’s going to take a little bit more convincing. He loves playing for New York. They feel like they are in the right direction, but he’d be a nice piece to the puzzle in Carolina.”

Your family is always being compared to the Sutters (a family that had six brothers make the NHL). When it comes to the long term, would your family want to emulate what they’ve done in terms of being coaches and general managers?

“It seems far off, but man it goes fast. Feels like I just started, but I have already played eight years. When it comes down toward the end of our careers, if there is a chance to be in those roles, it will be something we will all look at.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548.

Clark’s Force blog can be found at slightlychilled.areavoices.com