At 39, Peter Stastny closes circle and promotes his country to the A Pool
April 21, 1995 – Bratislava, Slovakia
There were two great defections in Toronto in the early 1970s. On June 29, 1974, the great dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov defected moments after a performance with the Kirov Ballet at the O’Keefe Centre, across the street from, ironically, the current home of the Hockey Hall of Fame. At about the same time, Vaclav Nedomansky defected from Czechoslovakia to play in the World Hockey Association with the Toronto Toros. It wasn’t for another six years that a high-profile defection took place. On August 26, 1980, Peter Stastny, his pregnant wife, and his brother, Anton, defected from Innsbruck, Austria after a European Cup tournament. From there they flew to Quebec. A third brother, Marian, joined them a year later.
Peter and Anton were the first players to defect to play in the NHL. They joined the Quebec Nordiques for the 1980-81-season, and Peter went on to have one of the finest careers in league history. Combined with his incredible international career, it might be argued he was one of the greatest players ever to play the game. Indeed, he played in two Olympics, five World Championships (three gold, two silver), and two Canada Cups.
Peter and Anton loved Quebec City so much they became Canadian citizens, and Peter played for Canada at the 1984 Canada Cup, winning a championship with his adopted country. The only goal he would score for Canada, was against Czechoslovakia. Incredibly, Peter had played on the 1976 Czech team that lost to Canada in the dramatic 1976 finals.
None of his accomplishments, however, can compare to the emotions surrounding Peter’s last foray into international hockey. The early 1990s brought incredible changes to the political landscape of Europe, and Czechoslovakia divided into two countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The former was granted top pool status at IIHF events as the substitute nation for Czechoslovakia, but the Slovaks had to start from the bottom and work their way up the ranks. And, with the help of Peter Stastny, they did just that.
The new nation qualified to play at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway and finished in a remarkable sixth place. Stastny led that team with five goals and nine points in eight games, the first time he represented his true country. At the opening ceremonies in Lillehammer, it was a teary-eyed Stastny, who carried the Slovak flag, bursting with national pride. Just a few weeks later, Slovakia won the C Pool of the World Championship (without Stastny).
But a year later came the fantastic finale of his career. Just a couple of weeks after playing his last NHL-game, Stastny, almost 39, once again suited up for the Slovak national team when the B-Pool World Championship was held in his home town of Bratislava. Stastny had 16 points in six games to give the Slovaks a victory to earn promotion to A Pool for 1996. He was the tournament top scorer, named Best Forward and selected to the All Star Team. After Peter Stastny completed his mission in front of his own people, Slovakia never looked back, and he could retire in peace – exactly 20 years after debuting for the Czechoslovak national team.
Peter Stastny is the only player to have represented three countries in hockey—Czechoslovakia, Canada, and Slovakia—and although each represents a major component to his career, none has the emotional and symbolic resonance as his final appearance with Slovakia, his country and his home.
About the Top 100 Stories
As part of the IIHF's 100th anniversary celebrations, www.IIHF.com is featuring the 100 top international hockey stories from the past century (1908-2008). Starting now and continuing through the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Canada, we will bring you approximately three stories a week counting down from Number 100 to Number 11.
The Final Top 10 Countdown will be one of the highlights of the IIHF's Centennial Gala Evening in Quebec City on May 17, the day prior to the Gold Medal Game of the 2008 World Championship.
These are the criteria for inclusion on this list: First, the story has to have had a considerable influence on international hockey. Second, it has to have had either a major immediate impact or a long-lasting significance on the game. Third, although it doesn't necessarily have to be about top players, the story does have to pertain to the highest level of play, notably Olympics, World Championships, and the like. The story can be about a single moment — a goal, a great save, a referee's call — or about an historic event of longer duration — a game, series, tournament, or rule change.