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Stastny proud of American heritage

by Rick Sadowski
Living up to a family legacy can be an extremely difficult endeavor, one filled with a great deal of pressure, yet Paul Stastny is making it look relatively easy.

The 24-year-old Colorado Avalanche center chose to follow in the skate marks of his famous father, Hockey Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, and uncles Anton and Marian Stastny, and he's developed into a star in his own right.

A second-round pick (No. 44) in the 2005 Entry Draft, Paul Stastny helped the University of Denver win an NCAA championship as a freshman in 2005; signed with the Avalanche after his sophomore season and finished second to Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin in voting for the Calder Trophy in 2006-07; was named to the 2008 NHL All-Star Game, but couldn't play after undergoing an appendectomy; led Colorado in scoring in 2007-08 despite missing 16 games for health reasons.

"Paul obviously has the bloodlines of hockey in him,'' Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "Everybody knows the Stastny name is a big name in the hockey world. But the thing Paul has done is create an identity for himself as a player. He's not just a legacy, not just a Stastny. He's a tough, hard-working, quality guy who's carved out his own niche. He's a big, big part of this hockey team."

Paul Stastny also is expected to play a pivotal role while skating for Team USA in next month's Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

"It's an honor, something I never imagined in my wildest dreams when I was younger," said Stastny, who leads the Avalanche in scoring with 43 points (10 goals, 35 assists) in 49 games. "You're always focused on making the NHL, and making the Olympics is really special. To be able to represent the USA means a lot to me.

"We'll have a fast, puck-moving team. We'll be exciting and I really think people will enjoy watching us. I hope we can make America proud."

Unlike his father, who defected from what was then Czechoslovakia to Quebec in 1980 under circumstances that could have been included in a John Le Carre spy novel, Paul's path to the NHL was fairly routine.

But this wasn't quite the case for his inclusion on Team USA.

Paul's parents are Slovakian, and he was born in Quebec City in 1985 when Peter and Anton were playing for the Nordiques (Marian spent his first four seasons in Quebec and went to Toronto in 1985-86).

So how come he'll be wearing a red, white and blue sweater next month?

Paul grew up mostly in St. Louis after Peter moved on to the Blues. He owns dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship, played for the U.S. Junior Select Team at the 2004 Viking Cup and for the U.S. national team in the 2007 World Championship tournament.

"I've been living in the States since I was five," said Stastny, who moved to New Jersey with his family when Peter was traded to the Devils, and to St. Louis when he was nine. "I was raised and grew up (in the U.S.). All my friends and everyone I played hockey with are in the U.S., so at heart I was always American.

"I always knew if it came down to a situation like this, I'd love to play for the U.S. and represent them."

Stastny still spends much of his time in St. Louis after hockey season, maintaining a home in Denver when the Avalanche is playing.

"My family is still there," he said of St. Louis. "My brothers are there and we work out there. It's still one of my main homes."

Paul's older brother, Yan, is in the Blues organization and has split time between St. Louis and the Peoria Rivermen in the American Hockey League.

Paul said neither he nor Yan was pushed to play hockey. On the contrary, he said, all of the Stastny children were encouraged to carve their own stations in life.

"I was lucky to have my dad," said Paul, who wears the No. 26 his father donned in Quebec and was retired by the Nordiques. "He never put pressure on us. He knew we we're going to be ourselves, that we were going to make our own reputations as people. I think he's the perfect role model to look up to. He never pushed us into hockey. We played every sport growing up, but (hockey) came natural because of my dad and uncles.

"Being born in Quebec, it just came natural that I wanted to play hockey. I remember the place where we lived and the pond hockey that we always played; it was probably a half mile away from our house. I don't really remember going to (NHL) rinks until later, in St. Louis. But I was always around the cold weather and always around the ice."

Paul knows all about the harrowing defection undertaken by Peter and Anton (Marian joined them a couple of years later), but only because he asked his dad several years ago.

"He doesn't talk about stuff like that," Paul said. "My father was really quiet and never said much. He's humble and doesn't say too much unless you ask him. He kept everything quiet."

Peter played for Czechoslovakia in the 1980 Olympics, and twice more for Slovakia, but Paul hasn't asked him for any advice about playing on the Olympics stage.

"I think he's excited for me, but I haven't really talked to him about it or his experience," Paul said.

"Everybody knows the Stastny name is a big name in the hockey world. But the thing Paul has done is create an identity for himself as a player. He's not just a legacy, not just a Stastny. He's a tough, hard-working, quality guy who's carved out his own niche. He's a big, big part of this hockey team." -- Avs' head coach Joe Sacco

Like father, Paul isn't the most talkative player in the Avalanche dressing room, but he leads by example and is serving as an assistant captain this season.

Also like father, who represents Slovakia in the European Parliament, Paul has some interest in politics. But he won't be running for office when his playing days are over.

"I pay attention to that stuff and you learn things as you get older," he said. "You start making money and making decisions for yourself, so you watch and read about a lot of stuff. I like what my dad does in politics and in business, but I keep things to myself. I'd just rather lay low and keep my thoughts inside."

That's actually a fairly shrewd political statement in itself.

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