Penguins Notebook: Staal understands sod problems

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Penguins forward Jordan Staal does not follow the Steelers closely, but he had a prediction for the Monday night game.

Staal knew there would be trouble as soon as he heard that the field had just been resodded and saw the downpour that hit the Pittsburgh area.

"There's nothing you can really do, especially when it rains like that and it's fresh sod," said Staal, whose family owns a sod farm in Ontario.

Staal's role with the farm has been rooted a lot more in labor than the business end -- and with his hockey career in full swing, he no longer spends summers muscling rolls of grass and dirt -- but he knows enough to realize high traffic is sod's worst enemy.

"There are playgrounds we have to do almost every summer," he said yesterday after practice at Mellon Arena. "The more people are on it, the worse it's going to get."

The Staals have sodded baseball and soccer fields. He said the key is time for the grass to get rooted -- and even then, regular replacement can be necessary.

The Steelers, hoping to improve a field torn up by high school and college games, overlaid a thick helping of sod from a New Jersey company in the 48 hours before Monday night. Even with a tarp covering it before the game, rain flooded the new grass surface and the players shredded it.

"It's never going to stick together right away," Staal said. "If you go run on it, it's going to tear up really fast until it gets rooted."

The Steelers beat winless Miami, 3-0, on Jeff Reed's field goal.

Party time

Twenty-five children and their families attended practice and a luncheon with the team that included autographs and photos as part of the Penguins' annual Make-A-Wish party.

Two players, forwards Sidney Crosby and Mark Recchi, facilitate similar, albeit smaller, parties regularly. They have bought suites for children and families to use at home games through various children's charities.

Crosby's family decorated his suite, which is closed off with dividers so that only his guests get to see it.

"My mom and dad went through a lot of albums and took out some pictures when I was the age of a lot of the kids who are in there, and more of them are from school and away from hockey," Crosby said. "There's a map of Cole Harbour [Nova Scotia, his hometown], and they can see where it is compared with Pittsburgh. When kids go there, they can see more than just the hockey side of things, be able to have fun and maybe see things that everyone doesn't typically see."

Slap shots

With six days between games, a day off Sunday and an optional practice Monday, yesterday was the first full-team session in a few days. Everyone but defenseman Sergei Gonchar (groin) and center Maxime Talbot (ankle) participated. Many were on the ice for more than an hour and a half. ... A scoring change has given forward Erik Christensen an assist on the Penguins' second goal Saturday against Atlanta. It had been credited to defenseman Kris Letang. ... Crosby continues to lead the Eastern Conference in All-Star fan balloting. His latest tally is 177,873 votes. Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov is second at 115,007. The Penguins' Ryan Whitney is seventh among defensemen with 48,686, and Evgeni Malkin is 10th among forwards.


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