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NHL's Staal brothers meet up on ice as family copes with tragedy

Carolina's Jordan Staal, left, and brother Eric Staal of the Wild. USA TODAY Sports photos1 / 3
Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal passes in the second period against the Detroit Red Wings Sunday, March 4, at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports2 / 3
Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal. Eric Hartline/ USA TODAY Sports3 / 3

ST. PAUL—There's something unexplainable about being at an NHL rink that can make even the toughest times a little bit easier. Whether it's the bright lights, or the cheering fans, or simply getting back into a daily routine, it has a way of defeating tragedy, even if it's only for a few moments.

Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau experienced that unspoken phenomenon after the unexpected death of his younger brother, Bryan, about six months ago.

"You need the games," the 63-year-old said. "I just wanted to play and work so I didn't have to sit and think."

Nearly everyone in the Wild locker room can relate, agreeing that sometimes the best thing to do, at least in the short term, is to get back to work.

"There's something therapeutic about being on the ice," said Jason Zucker, whose friend was injured in the deadly Las Vegas mass shooting earlier this season. "It just helps take your mind off some of the other things that might be going on."

In that sense, Tuesday's game between the Wild and Carolina Hurricanes couldn't come at a better time with Hurricanes co-captain Jordan Staal and his wife, Heather, suffering through the loss of their infant daughter a little more than a week ago.

"This has been a longer road than most people know," Jordan Staal said in a statement last week. "Our little Hannah had a terminal birth defect. While we prayed for a miracle, or even a few more minutes with her, she came into this world stillborn. Nonetheless, we are still very thankful for our short time with her."

Wild center Eric Staal has talked to his younger brother "pretty much every day" since then, though the upcoming game gives him the chance to comfort him face to face.

"It'll be good to see him today and get together," Eric Staal said on Monday morning. "They should get in later this afternoon depending on the weather. I'm looking forward to it. ... There's been people around (the family) for a while now. For me, I haven't seen him, so it'll be good to catch up."

Jordan Staal has played in three games since the death of his daughter, scoring a point in each game, including a goal against the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday night. And while the games might be secondary in the grand scheme of things, Eric Staal agreed that it has probably been a good thing for his brother to get back to doing what he loves.

"I'm impressed and proud of how he and his wife have handled everything they've been through over the last few months," Staal said. "It's been extremely difficult for them and our whole family. They are strong people. They have a strong faith and it's kind of helped through this whole process. It's day by day. They are doing as good as they can."

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service