January 02, 2012
PHILADELPHIA — When asked after the New York Rangers' practice on Sunday whether injured defenseman Marc Staal would play in the 2012 NHL Winter Classic, Coach John Tortorella said "no, nothing's changed with Marc. Same lineup tomorrow for this team."
Then Sunday dinner happened.
That's when Tortorella said he was given the green light from his trainer and a physician for Staal's return to the lineup for the first time since Game 5 against the Washington Capitals last April. But most importantly, he got the green light from Staal.
"I sat down and talked with him and asked him, 'Do you want to play?' I heard so many different things, and Marc was talking quite a bit," said Tortorella on Monday. "I said, 'Staalsy, I don't care about anyone else's opinion. Are you ready to play?' And he said he was."
Staal will rejoin the Rangers' lineup on the third defense pairing, which will limit his minutes. "We're not putting him in a top four position. We'll make judgments as it goes along here," said Tortorella.
Staal's concussion, on a hit from his brother Eric in March, was one of the dozens that have impacted significant players in the NHL this season. Another player on that list: Sidney Crosby, who was concussed in last season's Winter Classic in a collision with Dave Steckel. To have one player dramatically come back from a concussion in the 2012 Classic after losing a player in 2011 provides an interesting bit of symmetry for a League whose image, from a player safety perspective, has been maligned. Wonder if this will be mentioned on NBC ...
Was there any hesitation from Tortorella to bring back Staal in an outdoor game? Tortorella said "you can overthink" the challenges of playing outdoors, and that the environment wouldn't have affected his decision. "I don't care if he's going to play in a creek somewhere. He's going to play."
This marks the second Winter Classic in a row in which a Staal has made an unexpected comeback from injury. Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins recovered from a broken hand to play in the 2011 Classic at Heinz Field.
We eagerly await Eric Staal making it a Classic injury comeback hat trick. Oh, that's right, Carolina's never getting an outdoor game. Never mind.