Things had started to sour for the brothers around that time. They would never have left their homeland just for the money, but they did not leave seeking "freedom" or "democracy" either. The Stastnys defected, they say, because they didn't like the way the Czech hockey program was being run. They didn't like the coach.
Czechoslovakia has a hockey league similar to the Soviet Union's. There are 12 teams in the first division, and the winner of the division is the national champion. The National Team is something else, an all-star outfit consisting of the cream of the division. But for a team to win a national championship is something special. That is for the town. Czechoslovakia is a country of two languages, two cultures. The Czechs and the Slovaks are as distinct from one another as the Flemish and Walloons in Belgium. Do not, if you please, refer to Peter or Anton Stastny as Czechs. They are Slovaks. And Slovan Bratislava was the first Slovak team to win the national championship in what amounts to Czechoslovakia's national sport.
To say it meant a lot to the Stastnys is to understate the case. Peter ranks it higher on his list of thrills than his two world championships. "My first time on National Team, we won world teetle. Second time, we won second world teetle. But the Czechoslovak teetle cost me seven years. Much pain."
Then, in short order, mysterious trades destroyed the competitiveness of Slovan Bratislava, and even the National Team went into a decline. Peter was the second leading scorer at the Lake Placid Olympics, but his team failed to win a medal, for the first time since 1960.
Léger and the Nordiques had hoped to make their move on the three Stastnys at Lake Placid, which is only a short drive from Quebec. Léger had a room in town, a rented cabin in the woods and a vehicle with a pass to drive everywhere but inside the Olympic Village itself. However, security was such that he was never able to make direct contact with the Stastnys.
Months passed with nothing accomplished. Then, on the evening of Thursday, August 21, Peter Stastny went to the post office in Innsbruck, where the National Team was to play Finland and the Soviet Union, waited an hour to place the call, then phoned Léger at the Nordiques' office in Quebec. "Do you have interest?" he asked. "We are prepared." The "we" included Anton and Peter's wife, Darina, who was eight months pregnant and with him on the trip. Had Léger said no, Peter would have called another Canadian team, probably Edmonton. He had an NHL Guide with him.
Léger, of course, said yes. He took down the number of Peter's room in the Innsbruck Holiday Inn, then went to Aubut with the news. It was the first time they had heard directly from the Stastnys; still, they had gotten their hopes up on other occasions. Before Lake Placid there had been attempts in Germany, Switzerland and Italy. "For me, it was one more try," says Aubut.
Léger and Aubut landed in Innsbruck around noon the next day, Friday the 22nd, and checked in at the Europa Tyrol Hotel—two blocks from the Holiday Inn. Then they let the Stastnys know where they were staying.
A third man was involved—a man referred to as 007 by those who have heard of the exploit. He must remain anonymous. We shall call him Mr. Bond. On Friday night, following their game with the Finns, Peter and Anton went to the Europa Tyrol and negotiated with Aubut and Léger for about 2½ hours. Security around the Stastnys wasn't tight because Marian's wife and three children were still back in Czechoslovakia, and it was considered unlikely that the three brothers would split up, or that Marian would desert his family.
When the Stastnys left the Europa Tyrol Friday night, Aubut and Léger still weren't sure they had a deal. What was left to discuss? "The money, what else?" Anton, the clever, elfish one, said recently. Peter is serious, sincere, and Anton's remark about the money set off a flurry of Slovak by Peter, a lecture by the look of Anton's rolling eyes. Then came a measured, soft-spoken explanation in English that the money was not a bone of contention. "Hockey is our love," Peter said.