Staal signs with Wild AHL affiliate, eyes Olympic chance with Canada

Eric Staal signed a professional tryout contract with the Minnesota Wild affiliate of the American Hockey League in Iowa on Thursday.

The 37-year-old center, who last played in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens last season, said the decision was to help him prepare for the Beijing Olympics in 2022, if he was to be selected to play for Canada. Athletic reported Thursday that Canada’s Olympic team called Staal to gauge his interest.

“I guess the chance to represent Canada and the Olympics is never something you can turn away from,” Staal said Friday. “It’s quite special and it would be an honor if I had the chance. I’ve been skating alone for a while now and I’m kinda waiting to see what happens or if there’s an opportunity for me to play .

“I still have the itch and the desire to play, it was kind of a stepping stone to see where I am, where my body is and how I feel and from there. If it goes well at the next stage and Canada sees fit for me to help them, so I’ll be happy to go out there and play for Canada.”

Staal played 311 games in four seasons with the Wild (2016-20) and scored 1,034 points (441 goals, 593 assists) in 1,293 games in 17 seasons for the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Wild, the Buffalo Sabers and the Canadiens after being selected by Carolina with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft. He scored 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 53 games in his final season.

Staal helped Canada win a gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and finish first at the 2007 IIHF World Championship.

The NHL announced Dec. 22 that its players will not be participating in the 2022 Olympics due to disruption to the regular season schedule due to rising COVID-19 cases and a growing number of postponed games. As of Thursday, 104 matches had been postponed.

Staal said he hasn’t closed the door on playing in the NHL again.

“I’ve had conversations over the last few weeks, months, with a few different teams, but I haven’t found an opportunity yet, so like I said, that’s why I keep skating. and stay in shape,” Staal said. “If this opportunity arises, I’ll be ready to go. It’s just another step in the type of direction where I’m going to play a game and compete. I still have that itch and the desire to do it. J look forward to the games and whatever happens after that will happen.” Independent Correspondent Jessi Pierce contributed to this report

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