KOSICE – It just wouldn’t be right if Slovakia hosted the World Championship for the first time and there wasn’t a player named Stastny in the lineup. Okay, this Stastny is playing for the U.S. and not the hosts, but that’s a detail.
Yan Stastny is at his third Worlds – but first since 2006 – and although he’s not the superstar his father, Peter, was, or his uncles, Marian and Anton, he’s still a world-class player. He first appeared in 2005 in Innsbruck, Austria.
“Any time you’re representing your country, it’s awesome, no matter where or when it is, but this year with it being in Slovakia and the roots I have, it’s extra special,” Yan said. “It’s always a blast to come out here and play with a group of guys wearing the “USA” on your chest.”
Not having played the event for five years has given the 28-year-old a little perspective. As well, he is now a veteran on a team loaded with young, fast, skilled Americans, many of whom have gone through the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“It’s a lot younger and faster now,” Stastny agreed. “I’ve aged a little bit, but it’s fun. When I played last time, I was one of the youngest guys; now I’m one of the older guys. My first time was exciting, but this year it’s a whole different circumstance. The pace feels a little bit quicker. I don’t know if that’s because I’m a bit older and I’m smart enough to judge it a little better, but the pace is really good.”
While many of the players on this year’s edition of Team USA are not household names, they all play the game at a very high tempo. “We’ve got a young team, and we skate well,” Stastny noted. “We put a lot of pressure on the other team’s defence and get the puck in their end. Our team is built around skating and speed. We want to pursue the puck, and once we get it we can work with each other.”
Hopefully, this means the U.S. won’t play a trap style, such is the quality of their skating, but Stastny sees that strategy as part of the modern game regardless.
“I think the trap is always there in one aspect or another, but when you pick a team of players from all over the world, it’s difficult to get too fancy on the big sheet,” he said.
But why was he picked this year? Since last playing at the Worlds, in Riga in 2006, he has bounced around, going to three NHL teams, a like number of AHL teams, and, in 2010-11 playing in Russia’s KHL with CSKA Moscow.
“I don’t know why,” he admitted. “Any time they ask, I say yes. I know they’ve given a lot of opportunities to other players and so forth. My brother was supposed to come as well, but he ended up getting hurt a couple of games before the end of the season. It would have been nice to have him here, but it’s one of those things where they came calling, and I said of course. I got the call from [USA Hockey’s] Jim Johannson. My agent gave me the head’s up, but I had a smile on my face.”
Stastny had a fine season in the KHL, but perhaps his name and the fact that adjusting to the event was easy were also factors in his favour. “I was a little surprised,” he said of Johannson’s classy phone call. “I played well in Russia at the start of the year, but it’s definitely a different game playing in Europe than North America with the bigger sheet and different style of play. I think I adjusted well coming from the European rink to the World Championship.”
Of course, father Peter watched the game yesterday between the Americans and Austrians, cheering on as son Yan score a goal in an impressive 5-1 victory. “He came out today with my mom. He’s here somewhere. I have to find him,” Stastny said with a laugh.
Of course, Peter was famous for wearing number 26, but here in Kosice, Ryan Shannon wears the number for Team USA. Not a big deal to Yan, though, who prefers 22.
“I’ve always been 22 when I played for Team USA or at the World Championships. When they asked what number I wanted, I said 25 or 22. I’ll stick with those. My brother carried on that legacy [of wearing 26].”
And what a legacy it is.