Thursday, August 29, 2019

Marian Stastny: Three Autographed Cards

Marian Stastny has had an eventful life, let alone hockey career.

Born in Bratislava in the 1950s, Stastny, like the vast majority of Slovaks, existed in a time where he and his family had no space: Czechs and Slovaks had seceded from the Austro-Hungarian empire in the beginning of the century (1918) but did not have time (or did not feel the need) to fully divide the land and form independent governments before the Nazis took them over in the late 1930s; when the Soviets eventually "freed" them from German rule, they simply took over as the "new boss", sending their army in whenever people complained (the biggest show of force being the Prague 1968 invasion, but there were other power plays as well, notably in 1948, 1955, 1960 and 1988).

It took the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 to give them enough breathing room to first remove "communism" as the State's official way of running things (and from the country's name), to becoming a federacy in 1990 and finally holding democratic elections in 1991. By 1993, peaceful secession was adopted and two countries that should have always existed were finally born: the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, when Marian and his brothers Peter Stastny and Anton Stastny were playing professional hockey, being in favour of Slovak independence was passible of jail time with two levels of governance being strongly opposed to it: the majority Czech government, and that of the U.S.S.R. Essentially, Slovaks were "owned" by the Czechs who were "owned" by the Russians. They were sub-people, tax payers with little rights.

Hockey is an international sport, however, and the Stastnys were so good that they often faced Team Canada deep in tournament play, and they got to learn how things worked in North America.

During a tournament in Austria in 1980, Peter made a phone call that would change all three brothers' lives, to Québec Nordiques President Marcel Aubut, telling him he and Anton wanted to defect; they didn't invite Marian to come long because he was married with three children, and it was deemed too risky:
The next day, Nordiques President and CEO Aubut and director of personnel development Gilles Leger arrived in Innsbruck, Austria. They began planning immediately to get Anton, Peter and Peter’s wife, Darina, who was eight months pregnant (with their first child, a daughter), to the Canadian embassy in Vienna to apply for political asylum.
Faced with determined Czechoslovakian agents, who quickly realized what was happening, the group needed the help of not only the embassy, but also the Viennese police, Canadian Minister of Defence Gilles Lamontagne, Canadian Immigration Minister Lloyd Axworthy and Hockey Canada’s Douglas Fisher. After a tense dash to the airport, they boarded a flight to Amsterdam and freedom. A connecting flight brought them to Montréal. Peter’s daughter, Katarina, would be born in Canada. 
That version of the story omits a few actual yet unbelievable facts, however, such as an escape through a field to meet up with a car driven by Léger with Aubut in the passenger's seat, all Stastny family members riding in the trunk with covers to avoid detection at checkpoints, and Canadian officials waiting at the airport with the trio's belongings...

The Czech and Soviet governments didn't take too well to the daring escape, so they had Marian followed constantly, his phone lines were tapped and he was barred from both practising law (his would-be day job) and playing hockey, despite being a better-than-point-per-game player in league play and having two World Championship gold medals and a bronze to his name.

Had Peter, Anton and the Nordiques not smuggled money to him, he and his family would have been homeless and bankrupt.

Seeing no other issue, they applied for Canadian citizenship via the legal channels only to see the Czechoslovakian government deny them, so he too called Aubut. To evade the patience of their followers, the family's trip included stops in Hungary, Yougoslavia, and Austria before boarding a flight to Canada.

As the 1981-82 season got under way, the Stastnys became the third trio of brothers to play on the same team at the same time, but with Marian's 35 goals and 89 points, Peter's 46 goals and 139 points and Anton's 26 goals and 72 points in just 68 games, they are clearly the best and most effective band of brothers of all time.

When he was named to the 1983 All-Star Game with Peter, they became just the sixth brother combination to do so. He also assisted on Anton's 100th goal.

Following his five-year NHL career, Marian took a coaching job in Switzerland for two years before moving back to Québec, where he still lives to this day. He sold the golf course and hotel he operated last summer (his Parkinson's has gotten too intense to run a business day-to-day), though he has yet to get paid for it. He's received awards for his business acumen in recent years, too.

And earlier this month, the City of Québec unveiled a, uh... "statue" honoring the legacy of the Stastnys:
It's reminiscent of 1980s table hockey figures, yes, but I feel they deserved something less tacky, less cartoony. We're talking about five adults, three kids and one child-in-womb risking their actual lives and freedom to become the most impactful name of a city and franchise, and here they are with exaggerated traits and inaccurate equipment colouring.

We're a ways away from this:
Still, what a beautiful uniform! That's the Nordiques' classic blue (away) garbs, of course. The card on the left is #295 from O-Pee-Chee's 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee set, while the card on the right is #121 from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Parkhurst collection. The OPC is his rookie card.

You may have noticed up-top that there was a third card featured... that'd be #292 from OPC's 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee set:
You might also notice that's Anton, wearing his usual #20 uniform. It's one of those classic O-Pee-Chee errors!

Marian was a good sport and signed all of them at the unveiling in thin blue sharpie, tagging HIS number (18) at the end.

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