Former National Hockey League star Anton Stastny recently paid a visit to Thailand. Born in Bratislava on August 5, 1959, Anton played nine seasons with the Quebec Nordiques from 1980-89. He was the first player born and trained in then Czechoslovakia to be drafted by an NHL team. He is the younger brother of Marián and Peter Stastny, and the uncle of Yan Stastny and Paul Stastny (Peter's sons, who both played in the NHL, the latter in over 1,000 NHL games).

Anton's son, Tomas Stastny (below left with Anton), played in Switzerland for Lausanne. But for the last few years Tom has lived in Bangkok and played in the Siam Hockey League, leading his team (Siam Mandalay) to the league championship last year. He also runs a café called The Barn at the Thailand International Ice Hockey Arena where he sells gourmet coffee and pastries.

Tom Anton Stastny ed

Anton was originally drafted 198th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, but the selection was ruled invalid after it was determined he was too young to be drafted. A year later, he re-entered the draft and was chosen 83rd overall by the Nordiques in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft.

Anton recalls that the Flyers confused his birthdate as Europeans tend to write the day, month, year, in that order (e.g., 05/08/1959), while Americans tend to write month, followed by the day, and year, so the Flyers thought Anton was born in May when actually he wasn’t born until August of 1959.

He played all of his nine seasons in the NHL alongside his brother Peter, four of which were also played alongside Marián. They became the third trio of brothers to play on the “same” professional hockey team (following the Bentley brothers with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1940s and the Plager brothers with the St. Louis Blues in the 1970s). Ironically, like fellow countryman Stan Mikita, they all got their start playing ball hockey.

Anton ranks ninth overall in NHL points by a Slovak player. Anton and Peter share the NHL rookie record for points in a game (8), which they set in the same game against the Washington Capitals on February 22, 1981. Two days earlier, they had six points each against the Vancouver Canucks.

One of Anton’s teammates was Dale Hunter who also had two brothers playing in the NHL, but not with the same team (Mark was with Montreal and Dave was with the Stanley-Cup winning Edmonton Oilers). Dale was one of the toughest and most feared competitors in the league at that time: his dad was one of the Stastny’s biggest fans.

The Stastny brothers ed

The Stastnys didn’t need to leave Czechoslovakia and defect to the NHL. Life was good; they had cars, good housing, decent food, privileges, but they didn’t have freedom. They wanted to be able to go where they wanted, when they wanted. They were even threatened to be excluded from the national team, or even worse – banned from playing hockey at all. So, Peter and Anton made the jump in the summer of 1980. Occasion arose while playing in Innsbruck (Austria), at the European Champions Tournament. They called Quebec and started a difficult journey to finally land in Canada two days later.

Peter’s wife was nine months pregnant at the time. She gave birth to a daughter, Katarina, two weeks after arriving in Quebec. Anton’s fiancé Galina joined him in Quebec six months later. The couple married and had two sons, Tom and his younger brother, Mathew. The following summer, Marian took a vacation in Croatia (then part of communist Yugoslavia) and applied for visa at the Austrian embassy in Zagreb. He received it and traveled to Vienna where Marcel Aubut, then the Nordiques President, flew in to take him to Quebec to join his brothers.

Until that time Anton’s father, Stanislav, had worked for a state-run company that built hydro-electric dams but in 1980 he was laid off without benefits. His wife, Frantiska, was a housewife and watched over the children as they grew.

At the time of their defection, the Stastny’s originally lost their Czech citizenship and were given a 24-month jail sentence if they returned home. The Czechoslovakian government eventually changed its tune after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. They also realized all the good publicity they were generating with their play in the NHL. So, Anton’s mother, and eldest brother, Vladimir, were often allowed to visit them in Austria, Italy, Switzerland and eventually in Canada.

Anton’s first game in the NHL was against the Flames in the old Calgary Corral, a small rink with high boards. The team had just moved from Atlanta. Ironically, Anton’s son Tom this year plays for Magna in the Siam Hockey League, and one of its key executives Jeffrey Hunt has a son, Dryden, who today plays in the Calgary Flames organization.

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Anton remembers that in rookie camps back then were more fighting than hockey. He said they had a little trouble adapting at first because many of the Nordiques defensemen would just ring it around the boards instead of developing a proper breakout.

In two of the four seasons that they played together the Stastny’s line scored 300 and 298 points, respectively. But Marian was eventually traded to Toronto and Alain Cote replaced him on their line. Their first year in the NHL, Jacques Richard and Jamie Hislop was the third member of their line.

During the Stastny’s time in Quebec, the Nordiques twice went to the conference final twice, but never made it to the Stanley Cup.

Anton remembers one memorable brawl with the Philadelphia Flyers when Bobby Clarke grabbed him and protected him from Flyers tough guy Glen Cochrane, who recently passed away.

The Stastnys’ coach for most of their time in Quebec was Michel Bergeron, who they never really got along with. “He was anti-hockey, dump it in and chase it was his favorite play,” recalls Anton. He even threatened to break up the Stastny line. Their response: “If you don’t play us together; we won’t play at all”.

Anton has fond memories of playing against Wayne Gretzky, and other great players. Back then, the best players on both teams played against each other, there were no checking lines per se. By the way, Anton’s favorite player was Gilbert Perreault (this reporter’s as well).

Anton Stastny hockey card ed

When Marian retired, Peter stayed in the NHL, but Anton moved to Switzerland. He had wanted to play with Lugano but ended up in a beautiful setting playing for HC Fribourg-Gottéron and then EHC Olten. Back then, the Swiss league allowed two imports, and there was a big difference between the top and bottom players on the team (Marián would also play a year in Switzerland with HC Sierre). Anton saw his ice time dwindling and the Nordiques coaching carousel was frustrating - four coaches in two years (Bergeron, Andre Savard, Ron Lapointe & Jean Perron), so he knew he wanted out.

Peter succeeded Marois Marois as captain of the Nordiques, becoming the first European to captain an NHL squad (he was indicted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995). Granted Canadian citizenship, Peter also played for that historic Team Canada in the 1987 Canada Cup, won in dramatic overtime by Canada against the Soviet Union.

Marian lives just outside Quebec City. Unfortunately, he came down with Parkinson’s Disease about nine years ago and he needs primary care.

The Sutter family (3216 points) has the most points of any family of siblings who played in the NHL followed by the Hull family (3215). Third place belongs to Stastnys (2900), while the Gretzkys are in fourth spot (2861).

By the way, Anton also played for Czechoslovakia in the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. He ended up playing 650 career NHL games, scoring 252 goals and 384 assists for 636 points and had at least 25 goals in eight consecutive seasons.

For the last 25 years, while living in Switzerland Anton has designed, manufactured & distributed furniture made by Evergreen company that he founded back in 1996.

Parting comment: what did Anton love about hockey: “It’s a fast, aggressive and emotional game”.

There is a book written in French about the Stastny journey:

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