Thank God for Eric Staal

All in all, I really shouldn't be complaining after we added 22 autographs from the Carolina Hurricanes, including just two pucks, to our collection yesterday. It's hard to feel satisified, though, when so many players, including goalie Cam Ward, couldn't find the time to sign.

Two months to the day when the Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goaltender
reinforced his hero status with a certain impressionable 5-year-old, Ward's indifferent attitude toward the afternoon crowd cost him a bunch of brownie points not only with a young fan, but quite a few other hounds as well.

Granted, reports indicated that Ward did sign multiples before Saturday's morning skate. And, for that, Tampa's dealers will eternally be grateful. But, for some hounds, including this one, gametime would represent our only chance to, yet again, make a little boy's day.

Unfortunately, though, it didn't happen. Ward joined Glen Wesley, for whom I was carrying three pucks (Carolina, Hartford and Boston), and took a hotel courtesy van for the 0.6-mile jaunt to the St. Pete Times Forum.

That being said, Eric Staal, Carolina's other superstar in the making, did not disappoint. As usual, and my experience dates to his NHL-lockout-induced American Hockey League apprenticeship in Lowell, Mass., was a willing and pleasant signer.

Joining Staal in renewing acquaintances with dealers, fans and hounds yesterday afternoon were Kevyn Adams, Keith Aucoin (only stick-wielding and jersey-toting dealers bothered), Erik Cole, assistant coach Jeff Daniels, Mike Commodore, Andrew Hutchinson, John Grahame, head coach Peter Laviolette, assistant coach Kevin McCarthy, Cory Stillman and Scott Walker. Justin Williams signed, but only for those willing to chase him three blocks on a muggy afternoon.

Joining Ward and Wesley in stiffing us were Craig Adams, Anton Babchuk, Eric Belanger, Tim Gleason, Chad LaRose, Trevor Letowski and Ray Whitney. To be honest, none is worth losing sleep over.

For the record, Rod Brind'Amour and Andrew Ladd did not make the trip. David Tanabe, whom we never saw, was a scratch.

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