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A recipient of the Zasluzily Majser Spotru, Czechoslovakia's highest award in sports, Marian had never seriously considered leaving his homeland and says that he was at first stunned when his brothers defected. But what happened afterward convinced him that he had to leave, too. "It was dark, very dark," he says. "What choice did I have?"
Marian first tried to exit through legal channels but, not surprisingly, got nowhere. The Czech secret police watched him carefully, but Marian is clever. Publicly, he denounced his brothers for leaving. He bought building materials and began making major improvements to his home. The ploy may have thrown off the police, who figured that anyone working that hard on his house wasn't about to abandon it.
Marian met no resistance last May when he applied for passports for himself, his wife, Eva, and their three children to take a motor trip to other Communist countries. The Stastnys drove across Czechoslovakia and Hungary to Yugoslavia. There Marian obtained visas to enter Austria. On June 4, he and his family crossed the border near Graz. The next day they walked into the Canadian embassy in Vienna. Aubut says Marian took "unbelievable risks, crazy ones." He also admits that the Nordiques greased a few Czech palms as Marian made his way from Bratislava to Quebec City. "It was costly," Aubut says. "Very expensive."
Today Marian is living happily in the Quebec City suburb of St. Nicolas. Next week he plans to open a disco-restaurant in Quebec City called Le Dix-huit, which is French for eighteen, his Nordique number. It will feature rock music and Slovak entr�es. Asked about Bratislava, Marian says, "I try to forget."
At 5'10", 192 pounds, Marian's style of play is clearly un-Canadian. Unlike wings brought up in his adopted land, who tend to skate in predetermined lanes, he constantly free-lances, shooting and setting up plays from practically anywhere on the ice. Marian extended his scoring streak to 19 games against Edmonton before spraining an ankle, which kept him out of the Bruin game. And while many NHL players get most of their goals at home, he has scored 11 on the road. Best of all, his freewheeling style is exactly what Bergeron expects from all the Nordiques.
"Once we were laughed at, but not anymore," says Aubut, speaking of the province's love for the Canadiens and its indifference toward the Nordiques. Montreal has had 64 seasons to develop its worshipers, but this year Quebec has found a following, too. In fact, when the Nordiques and Canadiens played a 1-1 tie last month, the crowd of 17,088 did most of their cheering for the Nordiques. And the game was in Montreal. "Our goal isn't to become the next Montreal," Aubut says. "We want to be the premier organization in professional sports."
To that end, Aubut leaves no stone unturned. Quebec City is overwhelmingly French-speaking. It has only one English-speaking movie theater and no daily paper printed in English. As a result, a lot of English-speaking NHL players want no part of being a Nordique. To overcome that, Aubut sees that Quebec players and their families receive more than a few perks, including free French tutors and membership in the Club Entrain, which has fitness facilities, restaurants and a day-care center. The Nordique locker-room complex—complete with a sauna, three exercise bicycles, two Nautilus machines and a TV lounge with a stereo and Ping-Pong and pool tables—is probably the finest in the league. In addition, the club has supplied each of the four Czechoslovakian defectors with a car during his first year. "We must do more than any other team," Aubut says.
Bergeron, among others, marvels at Aubut. "With Marcel," he says, "it's always—how you say?—go, go, go."
For their part, the Nordiques are go, go, going. Their locker room may be a Babelian din, but communicating on the ice hasn't been a problem. As Bergeron says, "Out there, the puck is black for everyone."