The journey begins for three sons
In early September, at the beginning of the academic year, a common back-to-school scene played out across North America. In St. Louis, young Paul Stastny loaded up a Volkswagen Jetta with his hockey equipment and clothes and what would become his dorm room fixtures. He left just enough room for himself and his mother, Darina, in the front seat and hoped a state patrolman somewhere on Interstate 70 didn't get picky about the load blocking the driver's view.
And the Stastnys headed west.
Paul was going off to college, to attend and play hockey as a freshman at the University of Denver.
It was a more sedate journey than when Paul's father, Peter, departed for North America in 1980. Following a hockey tournament in Innsbruck, Austria, Peter sat in a car tearing down the wrong way on a one-way street, attempting to flee from the watchful Czechoslovakian hockey authorities. He worried about surviving the ride as much as about the fate of his attempted defection from the Soviet-controlled country.
He and his brother Anton each escaped and joined the Nordiques. Later, older brother Marian followed them to Quebec. They left behind their homeland and a hybrid nation they, as proud Slovaks, never embraced.
"I knew about it when I was young, but I was probably 15 before we really talked about it a lot," Paul said of his father and uncle's flight. "(Peter) told me how dangerous it was, and how scared they were, and how they didn't know where Anton was. When he tells those stories, they're the kind that if you didn't know better, you wouldn't believe they happened. It was only 25 years ago but so much has happened and changed!"
It worked out for Peter Stastny. In 1998, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Now his son is a college freshman who also plays hockey. Paul Stastny isn't unique, though. Vince Goulet, son of former Nordiques and Blackhawks winger Michel Goulet -- inducted in '98, too - is a freshman winger at Providence. Also, Boston University freshman winger Chris Bourque is the son of Bruins great Ray Bourque, who will be inducted into the Hall next month. Around the country, other NHL offspring will be performing in various NCAA programs. They have the NHL in their blood and in most cases they have chosen NCAA hockey over Canadian major junior. Of that group, Stastny is the only one whose father came over from Europe.
Peter Stastny played with the Nordiques for a decade and the Devils for two full seasons before finishing up with a 23-game stint with the Blues. He was in the midst of a 41-goal season in 1985-86 when Paul was born in Quebec, and Paul was 3 when his dad joined the Devils and 8 when the family settled in St. Louis.
Paul Stastny comes off as an all-North American boy, through and through, much like the other offspring of NHL players in NCAA hockey this season. Stastny got significant ice time in the Pioneers' first three games -- losses to Minnesota and Boston College and a victory against Northeastern -- but doesn't have a point heading into Denver University's Western Collegiate Hockey Association home series against St. Cloud State.
On Saturday night, before the second game of the series in Magness Arena, Stastny, still only 18, will watch as the Pioneers unveil their national championship banner from last season.
"I heard so much from other people, about what a player my father was," Paul said. "They'd say he was a European, but he was so hard to play against. To be skilled and to be hated to be played against, you couldn't ask for anything more."
During the recent World Cup, many of the players representing the reconstituted Slovakian Republic had read Peter Stastny's book about his life. He described how he honed his hockey talent by scrounging boards and helping construct makeshift street rinks, then playing with his friends into cold nights. In St. Paul during the tournament, Stastny -- who served as the Slovaks' general manager -- was asked if the Slovaks understood what it was like for him to make the wrenching decision to escape the clutches of Czech authorities at a time when there was no way to know if he could ever go home again.
"No," Peter said. "They are too young. There are things that cannot be described.''
He has tried with his son, but it can't be through the book. His son doesn't read Slovak -- only French and English. The other twist to the story is that in addition to their home in St. Louis, Peter and Darina also own a house in Bratislava, the Stastnys' hometown, following Peter's election this year to the European Parliament.
"I'll be maybe getting the college package on cable and checking the schedule and flying to Denver a lot,'' Peter said.
These days, he is free to come and go.
"I'm just lucky to be here after what my dad and my uncle went through," said Paul, a 6-0, 200-pound winger who played the past two seasons, as a high school junior and senior, for the River City Lancers of the United States Hockey League. "I know that situation can't ever happen again, but they had to go through so much. When I think about that, I know I can cope with anything, whenever something comes up."
Paul took the difficult step of going from the USHL to NCAA hockey at only 18 years old, so he hasn't yet been eligible for the NHL draft. After his 31-goal season for River City, he ended up at Denver because he wanted to stay west of the Mississippi and Peter's friends in the Avalanche organization - including vice president Michel Goulet -- vouched for the highly regarded private university, the Pioneers' program and coach George Gwodzecky. Paul Stastny is now playing five miles from the Pepsi Center, the home of the NHL franchise for which his father toiled after leaving Europe. The Nordiques, in fact, retired Peter's No. 26, but the Avalanche -- who otherwise acknowledge Quebec's records and the franchise's heritage -- put the retired numbers back in circulation when the franchise arrived in Denver.
"Joe Sakic and my dad are good friends because they played together for a couple of years," Paul said. "I know some of those guys and feel like I can nod and say hi because they know who my dad is. It's, 'Hey, you're Peter's kid!' That's pretty cool."
Chris Bourque and Vince Goulet, 19, know the feeling. Coincidentally, while Paul Stastny is playing in Denver, Bourque and Goulet both lived there as teens.
Bourque and Goulet will see each other Friday night when Boston University (1-2) plays host to Providence (2-0) in a Hockey East opener, but Goulet, who hasn't yet played for the Friars, isn't expected to suit up because of a pulled groin muscle. (The Terriers will also play a Sunday exhibition at Brown Arena against BU alumni, including Chris Drury, Adrian Aucoin, Tom Poti, Mike Grier, Shawn McEachern, Rick DiPietro and Jay Pandolfo in a benefit for the Travis Roy and Mark Bavis foundations.)
Goulet went to high school for one year in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch and also attended the renowned Notre Dame Prep in Saskatchewan for a year. Because he played the past two seasons for junior's Texas Tornadoes of the North American Hockey League, he finished high school in the Dallas area.
Vince said he also considered Denver, but the Pioneers preferred that he play another year of junior before enrolling. At one point, major junior's Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League protected his rights, and he considered attending their training camp. But he and his parents decided to keep him on the college track.
"I think the big thing for me was that I was really allowed to develop in junior," said Goulet, who is 6-1, 185 pounds. "I wasn't anything special growing up, and college will give me the right kind of opportunity to keep getting better.''
Vince said his most vivid memory of his father's career was when Michel scored his 500th NHL goal for the Blackhawks in 1992.
"I was sitting right by the organ, and they flashed 500 on the scoreboard, and that was great," Goulet said.
Like Stastny and Bourque, Vince took being around NHL stars for granted.
"Really, the one big thing is that when we meet people who are very high-profile in the game, high-stature, we're not knocked off our feet," Vince said. "We're a lot more used to it. But, really, that's about it.''
Bourque, the BU freshman, was recruited by Ray's former teammate, Patrick Roy, the part owner of major junior's Quebec Remparts.
"But major junior never was really an option," Chris said. "My parents made it clear they wanted me to go to college and get an education. But they know I love hockey. I've loved being around the rink all along. There's not a day that goes by when I don't want to be on the ice."
At age 18, Ray Bourque came straight to the NHL from Verdun of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. But there are few Ray Bourques, and times are different. If there's added pressure on Chris, 18, who played last season for Cushing Academy, it's that he is playing college hockey in the city where his father is an icon.
"I like pressure and I think I perform better under it," said Chris, a 5-8, 178-pound winger who had two assists in the Terriers' first three games. "I hope I can add to the Bourque legacy. I hope the NHL's in my near future, but I know I have to develop more and become a lot stronger."
The advantage is that his father is around to help.
"It's really not that much different," Chris said. "He's just like a normal father. He tells me when I have a good game. I tell him everything, he tells me everything."
Hold on here. Chris, the college freshman, tells his father everything?
"Yeah," Chris said with a laugh. "Mostly."
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of the recently published "Third Down and a War to Go," and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."
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