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Stastny facing Slovaks

How deep can U.S. captain lead his team this year?

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Since the opener against Austria, U.S. captain Paul Stastny (left) has led the way for his team, and must do so again versus Slovakia. Photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images

HELSINKI – It’s the most famous family name in Slovak hockey history. But although the name “Stastny” is appearing at this year’s IIHF World Championship, it’s on an American uniform, and that’s how it’ll stay as the U.S. faces Slovakia in their round-robin finale.

Paul Stastny, a seven-year member of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, is captaining Team USA in fine fashion. He seems to improve in some way every time he represents his country. And while he certainly respects his family’s Slovak roots, he’s just focused on getting three points on Tuesday.

“Last year we lost to Slovakia,” recalled Stastny. “We know that if we win, we get that one seed [in the Helsinki group] and we'll play the four seed, and that'd be important.”

He speaks from experience. The 27-year-old playmaking centre recorded three points in six games en route to an Olympic silver medal in Vancouver in 2010.

In his first World Championship, Moscow 2007, he had eight points in seven games, but the Americans settled for fifth place. In Slovakia 2011, Stastny potted nine points in eight games. He’s already matched that total this year, but in just six games.

Of course, Stastny has a long way to go before he can match the exploits of his father Peter, who scored more NHL points in the 1980s than anyone except Wayne Gretzky. The former Quebec Nordiques superstar had the unique distinction of representing three different countries internationally: Czechoslovakia, Canada (at the 1984 Canada Cup), and Slovakia. He was also the GM of the team that won the first and only World Championship (2002) in Slovak history.

His uncles, Marian and Anton, were both respected national team stars with Slovakia too, and had a strong impact with the Nordiques in the early ’80s.

Paul clearly embraces the pressure, however. He wears his father’s old number 26 from the Quebec days.

Stastny holds dual US-Canadian citizenship, and since his formative years were mostly spent in the United States, it’s not surprising he elected to sport the Stars and Stripes internationally, despite his Slovak parentage.

His older brother Yan, who managed 33 points in 42 games with the DEL’s Nuremberg Ice Tigers, made the same decision years ago. Yan suited up for the U.S. at the 2005 Worlds in Austria, becoming the first Stastny son to appear in the tournament. Yan returned in 2006 and 2011 as well.

For Paul, getting a chance to win something this year would be a refreshing change. He had a career-low nine goals and 24 points as the Avalanche finished last in the Western Conference with 39 points in the lockout-shortened season. (At least they wound up getting the number one overall selection in the upcoming NHL draft, which could mean obtaining the rights to 2013 World Junior gold medal-winning defenceman Seth Jones of the United States, or a highly touted Canadian forward like Nathan MacKinnon or Jonathan Drouin of the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads.)

Team USA’s confidence is rising. After beating Germany on Sunday, Stastny said of his team: “It was a 3-0 game, but I think we felt more comfortable than the score shows.”

The United States is seeking its first gold at an IIHF World Championship since 1933. Its last medal was a bronze under coach Peter Laviolette at the 2004 Worlds in Prague – before Stastny’s NHL career even kicked off.

Besides Stastny, another player on the U.S. roster could wind up facing a country that his father once played for. Alex Galchenyuk is the son of former Soviet national team player Alexander Galchenyuk, and it’s possible that Russia and the United States will cross paths in the elimination round.

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