Stastnys remain an inspiration
Not too long ago, European players were a novelty act in the NHL.
That all changed, however, when Eastern European-based players started defecting from their homes to join the biggest hockey league in the world. Today, Europeans are everywhere in the NHL, chasing scoring titles, captaining teams and living in the NHL spotlight.
For many of those players, the trailblazing careers of Slovakia's Stastny brothers are the genesis for the success they enjoy today.
Peter and Anton Stastny fled communist-controlled Czechoslovakia in 1980 to join the fledgling Quebec Nordiques -- predecessor to today's Colorado Avalanche. To achieve their dream of playing in the NHL, the brothers defected while playing in the European Cup tournament for domestic league champions in Innsbruck, Austria.
It was a difficult decision for the pair, who left family behind, to come to North America. But, it was a chance they were willing to take.
Peter Stastny went on to score 450 goals and 789 assists in a 15-year NHL career that included stops in New Jersey and St. Louis before his retirement in 1995. Anton also had a strong career, scoring 636 points in a nine-year career with the Nordiques. Younger brother Marian, initially left behind in Czechoslovakia, came to North America in 1981 and managed 294 points in 322 games during a five-year career with Quebec and Toronto.
The three played together in Quebec -- sometimes on the same line -- from 1981 to 1985. The brothers combined for the first nine spots on the all-time list of points by a pair of brothers in one season. In 1981-82, Peter and Anton combined for 228 points to top the list. Brian and Brett Sutter, two of the six hockey-playing Sutters, hold the 10th spot with 176 points in 1984-85.
Peter Stastny says that the magnitude of defecting will be lost on future generations of former Eastern Bloc players.
"You really needed to know the times," Peter said in one interview. "It will be harder and harder to explain what that was like to someone who was born later."
Yet, he still feels indebted to the Stastnys, especially Peter.
"Peter is one of my biggest influences," Hossa said. "He was one of the greatest hockey players ever."
Hossa, and younger brother Marcel, who broke in with the Montreal Canadiens this season, hope to follow in the footsteps of the Stastnys.
Like the Stastnys, hockey is a family affair for the Hossas. Marian, 24, is in his sixth season with the Senators and has 150 NHL goals. Marcel, 22, is a first-round pick of Montreal. He joined the parent club for the first time this season. Their father, Frantisek, was recently named head coach of the Slovakian national team, which ironically, is managed by Peter Stastny.
"It was always hockey for me," said Marcel Hossa. "For my family it was always hockey. My dad was always there to give us advice and help us along. He even coached (Marian) in the World Junior Championships."
The Hossas are not the only brother tandem lighting up the NHL today.
The Bures, Pavel and younger brother Valeri, are high-profile and high-scoring stars from Russia. They turned successful careers with the Soviet national team into the American dream, escaping lives of hardship and poverty in their native Russia.
"When we were kids, it was our dream to play with the Red Army team and on the national team and win an Olympic gold medal," said Valeri, days after being traded to the St. Louis Blues last month. "As we grew older, and players from Russia started to come over here and our dreams started to change."
For years after arriving in North America, the Bures dreamed of playing together on the NHL stage. That dream finally came true during the 2001-02 season when Valeri was traded to the Florida Panthers from Calgary. Pavel was in his fourth season with the Panthers. Unfortunately, the reunion was shortlived as Pavel was traded to the Rangers late that season.
Identical twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin, of Sweden, are following the same path now. Both are emerging as stars in their third seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, the team that drafted each of them early in the 1999 EntrY Draft.
Russian Boris Mironov, meanwhile, continues the legacy started by brother Dmitri, who retired from the NHL after the 2000-01 season. Boris presently plays for the New York Rangers.
Other brother tandems are on their way to making their mark in the NHL.
Saku Koivu is already a star with the Montreal Canadiens, serving as that hallowed team's captain while serving as a beacon for all cancer survivors after battling stomach cancer last season to return to action for the playoffs. Younger brother Mikko, 20, is a first-round pick of the Minnesota Wild playing his third season in the TPS Turku setup in his native Finland.
Another clan of Finnish brothers is also set to light the NHL ablaze. Jarkko Ruutu is already an agitating mainstay with the Vancouver Canucks. Younger brothers Mikko and Tuomo hope to join him in North America soon.
Mikko, a late-round pick of the Ottawa Senators is in his third season with the Ottawa Senators after a one-year stint with Clarkson University. Tuomo, meanwhile, is a first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks. After two years with Jokerit, Tuomo joined HIFK Helsinki this season.