Peter Stastny Biography
Chronology, Career Statistics, Awards And Accomplishments, Further Information
Czech hockey player
Peter Stastny was one of the dominant offensive players of the National Hockey League (NHL). In the 1980s he was second only to Wayne Gretzky in points scored; the 1,239 points Stastny scored during his sixteen-year career with Quebec, New Jersey and St. Louis rank him as the second-best European scorer in NHL history. Of equal significance, when Stastny and his brother Anton defected from their native Czechoslovakia in 1980 to play in the NHL, they unleashed a wave of Eastern European players that changed the face of the league.
Peter Stastny was one of four sons born to Stanislav and Franciska Stastny in Bratislava, a city in the Slovak region of Czechoslovakia. Growing up in an ice hockey-crazed nation, Peter and his brothers Marian and Anton grew up with hockey sticks in their hands. They played whenever they could, and all three developed into excellent players. Marian eventually joined the Bratislava team of the Czech league; Anton and Peter soon joined him there. They later played on the national team that represented Czechoslovakia in international competitions. In 1976 they were members of the Czech team in the Canada Cup. At the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic Games, the Stastny brothers combined to score sixteen goals for the Czech team in six Olympic matches.
With the memory of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia to suppress democratization fresh in the country's memory, Stastny always played particularly hard in matches against USSR teams. Once on the Czech national team, his remarks criticizing political abuses in Czechoslovakia brought him into conflict with the Communist regime there. He was warned that if his public statements did not follow the government line, he would be banished from the Czech team. The threat shook Stastny to his core. "To hear this, it was like someone poured icy cold water on your naked body," Stastny told Eric Duhatschek of Toronto's Globe and Mail. "This is when I realized, because they had total control and could manipulate you anyway they wanted, there was no future for me [in Czechoslovakia] as a player or a person." After much soul-searching, Stastny made up his mind to leave the country.
Stastny, his pregnant wife Darina, and his brother Anton defected while the Czech National team was in Innsbruck, Austria playing a tournament. Their escape was like a story from a spy novel. They left under cover of night and made their way to the airport where they boarded a plane booked by executives of the Quebec Nordiques, an NHL club. The decision to leave his homeland was a frightening one for Stastny. He was leaving behind everything he knew and knew he would probably never return. Most difficult, he was leaving his brother and parents to the caprices of the Communist government he hated. Stastny's fears were justified. After his defection, his parents were denied a new apartment for which they had been waiting for years. Marian, who was unable to defect at the same time, was suspended from the national hockey team and put under police surveillance. Small wonder that Peter Stastny deeply resented taunts from opposing NHL players that he was a "Commie." "I hated communism more than anybody," he told the Denver Post's Terry Frei. "I never accepted that without coming back at the guy."
In October 1980, the Stastny brothers joined the Quebec Nordiques. Their hard, intelligent, wide open style of hockey was an instant hit in Quebec. Peter was a team leader from the day he arrived. "On the ice, Peter was the guy that made things go," teammate Jamie Hilsop told the Globe and Mail's Duhatschek. "he sat me down in the stands before the game and diagrammed out exactly where he wanted me to be. Even back then, he wanted to use the full width of the ice."
Stastny's first season was a difficult one. He was not used to the constant travel or the large number of games played at NHL intensity. By Christmas 1980, he was exhausted. By the All-Star break he had caught his second wind, and his play in the second half of the season was phenomenal. In two consecutive games against Vancouver and Washington, he and Anton scored a combined twenty-eight points. The sixteen points they scored in the Washington match still stands as a road game record. Stastny had scored thirty-nine goals and 109 points in 1980; he was named the NHL's top rookie and awarded the Calder Trophy.
1981-82 was equally notable. He and Anton were able to ransom their brother from Czechoslovakia with $30,000 they saved during their first season with the Nordiques. For a while afterwards, the three brothers skated on the same line for Quebec. His second season, with forty-six goals and ninety-three assists, was the most productive of Stastny's career. He would go on to score 110 points or more in five more seasons as well. During the 1984-85 season, Stastny played on the Canadian team in the Canada Cup tournament, scoring one goal and two assists. Quebec traded Peter Stastny to the New Jersey Devils toward the end of the 1989-90 season. Though older, Stastny was far from washed up as a player. He remained among the NHL's leading scorers with New Jersey, and in the early 1990s the Devils were regular Stanley Cup contenders.
Following the Velvet Revolution and the fall of Czechoslovak Communism in late 1989, Stastny was able to visit his homeland in 1990 for the first time in ten years. In 1993, Slovakia became an independent nation and Stastny returned again to prepare the Slovakian hockey team for the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer Norway. With Stastny as player-coach, the Slovakian team proved unexpectedly strong against some heavily favored opponents despite not winning a medal. Stastny was jubilant despite the disappointing finish. After the Olympics, Stastny returned to the NHL and played twenty-three games for the St. Louis Blues before retiring in 1995. Peter Stastny lives in St. Louis Missouri with his wife Darina, his daughters Katarina and Kristina, and his sons, Yan and Paul. Stastny works as a scout for the St. Louis Blues organization. There was talk in spring 2002 of his running for the Slovakian presidency.
Peter Stastny scored 450 NHL career goals—if one added the approximately 120 he scored playing club hockey in Czechoslovakia in his early 20s, he would easily be among the top ten scorers in NHL history. With 1,239 career points, he is the second-highest scorer among Europeans to play NHL. In 1998 Stastny was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Of his success on the ice he told Eric Duhatschek, "I had a passion for the game of hockey. I believe, if you want to achieve something and you put your mind and all your skills into it, you just achieve it."
Sketch by Gerald E. Brennan
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