On Friday, January 3rd, 2023. The Sudbury Wolves honoured former Captain Marc Staal by making him the 6th Wolf to have his number retired to the rafters. Staal played 236 games with the Sudbury Wolves, capping off his OHL career with 23 goals and 100 assists, all while leaving a massive impact within the cold mining town.
Any Sudbury Wolves fan around for the spectacular playoff run of the 2006-2007 OHL season will remember the players who donned the blue and grey uniforms of the past. Some include Kevin Baker, Justin Donati, goalie Sebastian Dahm and his frightening black pads, and notable NHL stars Adam McQuaid and Nick Foligno. Most importantly, though, they will remember the captain and arguably the best defenseman the team has ever seen, number 14 Marc Staal.
Selected 2nd overall in the 2003 OHL Priority Selection, Marc joined the Wolves as a rookie at the age of 16. He left his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario. During an interview done with Wolves’ team historian, Mike Commito Staal touches on his journey to the new city.
“Going to Sudbury kind of made me grow up quick,” he said. “I’m 16 years old and away from home. I think the biggest memory of meeting my new teammates and going to a new school is “the feeling of being uncomfortable in new situations and learning to thrive in those situations.”
While the humble 16-year-old didn’t know it at the time, he’d grow and develop into Sudbury’s greatest player to ever patrol the blue line. During Staal’s rookie season, he appeared in all but seven games of the OHL’s 68-game season, scoring one goal while racking up 13 assists from the point, as well as having scored three points in the playoffs, helping him earn a place on the OHL’s all-rookie all-star team for the 2003-2004 OHL season. Of course, to a casual fan, the numbers from Staal’s rookie season are less than ideal, but to the hardcore Wolves fans, they knew they had a diamond just waiting to be polished and boy, did that diamond shine once it was.
During the 2004–05 season, Marc Staal elevated his game to the next level, becoming much more comfortable on the point and digging into his offensive bag of tricks. Staal was able to put up 26 points that season, but where the real value of his game lay was his ability to shut down the opponents’ top lines. Bouncing between the first and second D-pairings, the big 17-year-old finished with an OHL career-high of plus/minus +22, catching the eye of the New York Rangers. The team that would propel him into the NHL stardom for which he’s known would draft him 12th overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Although he was taken high in the draft, Marc returned to the “Pack” for another season of junior hockey.
Returning back to Sudbury in the 2005-06 season from his NHL development camps, then Wolves’ head coach Marcus Foligno greeted Staal with an impressive gift. That preseason, Marc Staal became the 28th captain in the history of the Wolves. Little did the pair know how impactful that decision would be, on and off the ice. While everyone knew who he was as a hockey player on the ice, not too many people knew Marc Staal, the person. Being the “new face of the Wolves” meant much more exposure within the community, and wow! Did the Sudbury faithful love that? Showing up to meet and greet the greats at the local mall or even having Marc pop into young classrooms for a quick hello, the Wolves’ fans couldn’t get enough and had his number 14 jersey flying off the shelves. That season, Staal would go on to rack up 49 points in 53 games while finishing with a plus/minus +12 to cement his defensive reputation. Leading the group on a 10-game playoff run, the number five Wolves beat the fourth-seeded Kingston Frontinacs in six games to advance to the second round. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be, as a stacked Peterborough team steamrolled the Wolves in four games and swept the series. Although the result was not what anyone associated with the team wanted, there was a sense of hope because, in the darkness of disappointment, the light of optimism shone through.
After officially turning pro in the 2005-06 postseason by suiting up in 12 playoff games for the Hartford WolfPack, Staal returned to Sudbury for the 2006-07 OHL season and was poised to make his final lap around the rink special. Building off an impressive playoff run last season, the vibe around both the city and the team was optimistic. Keeping the key core players from last year, the Wolves started the season hot but were starting to cool off near the halfway mark of the season. Realizing his team might not make it all the way, Coach Mike Foligno offered his veterans an ultimatum, offering to trade his older players so they could have an opportunity to win a title before their time is up or stick around in Sudbury and he’ll make sure to acquire the right pieces, which he did. The aforementioned goalie Sebastian Dahm was one of those “right pieces” traded to Sudbury from Sarnia. Picking up the 20-year-old netminder for a single draught pick at the deadline seemed to be the catalyst for a great run as the team finished as the 6th seed in the Easter Conference and were really hitting their stride as the playoffs began.
The playoffs opened up on the road against a series against the 3rd-seeded Mississauga Majors; trading wins in the opening two games of the series. Sudbury grabbed a stranglehold of the series, winning both games at home before eventually closing it out on the road in a tightly contested 6-5 win. After taking care of Mississauga, the Wolves hit the road again, heading south to take on the #1 seed Barrie Colts, who were fresh off a series sweep against the Brampton Battalion. Although much of the league and presumably the Barrie Colts thought it would be a walk in the park to the Eastern Conference Final, Sudbury had a different script in mind. Winning won all four games in a series that saw all but one go to overtime; going further than anyone could’ve expected, the Wolves took the show on the road once again. Facing off against the 2nd-seeded Belleville Bulls, it was a highly contested series that saw both teams trading wins back and forth a place. Sudbury found themselves up 3-2 in the series, and a spot in the OHL finals hung in the balance with game six. After a full game and three overtime later, Sudbury forward Matt Diaz capitalized on a juicy rebound and sent the Cinderella Wolves to the finals for the first time in 30 years. The Sudbury Community Arena erupted in pandemonium, with strangers hugging strangers, parents yelling louder than their kids, and even some dads shedding a tear. As Captain Marc Staal saluted the crowd with a final raise of the trophy, little did anyone know that the only trophy they would see lifted would be that on there tonight, and although Sudbury’s magical run ended on a disappointing note, losing in overtime against the Plymouth Whalers in game six, the memories of both Marc Staal’s career are captured within the old walls of the Sudbury Arena. As you walk around the concrete concourse and run your hand along the cracking bricks that make up the wall, remember all the history trapped inside and the magic that Marc Staal and the rest of the 2007 Wolves team brought to that city, as well as the magic that Marc Staal and the rest of the 2007 Wolves team brought to that city in the early 2000s.
Rightfully in his place with other Sudbury Wolves legends, Marc Staal’s number 14 will be the first blue and grey era jersey to be retired.