Athletics & Recreation / Magazine Feature

DU athletes, alums shine at Winter Olympics

Former DU Pioneer hockey forward Paul Stastny won a silver medal as part of the U.S. hockey team at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C. Photo: USA Hockey

Both athletes and alumni showed that the University of Denver is a haven for winter-sport talent during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, a former DU hockey player brought home a medal. Paul Stastny, who played two years of hockey with the Pioneers, won his first Olympic medal as part of the U.S. men’s hockey team that took silver.

Team USA played Canada for the gold, losing 3-2 in overtime in one of the most thrilling Olympic hockey games ever.

“It was great,” Stastny says on the Colorado Avalanche Web site. “We got so close to winning. It could go either way when you’re in overtime playing against Canada. You couldn’t ask for anything more except for a win. It went against us, but you have to congratulate them because they had an unbelievable tournament. I thought we did, too. But we were so close but at the same time it just didn’t go our way.”

Stastny scored a goal in the United States’ 6–1 semifinal victory over Finland and notched two assists, one of which came in the team’s 5–3 upset victory over Canada in the preliminary round.

Stastny played for the Pioneers from 2004–06. During his time at the University, he helped DU to its 2005 NCAA national championship and led the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in scoring the year after. Stastny left DU with 98 career points, scoring 36 goals and registering 62 assists in 81 games.

Since DU, Stastny has played for the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. 

DU alpine skier Leif Kristian Haugen skied for Norway in the games’ giant slalom and slalom events. Haugen finished 28th in the giant slalom. 

“Of course, right after the giant slalom, I was disappointed; I hoped to do better,” Haugen says. “Overall, I did some sections of the course really well. Making it to the Olympics is a great experience for me. I definitely feel like I learned something. Maybe when we get to Sochi, [site of the 2014 games in the Black Sea resort area of Russia] I’ll be better prepared and fight for the medals.”

Haugen did not finish his first run in the slalom event after straddling a gate, which effectively ended his Olympic competition.

“It happens, it’s a part of the sport,” Haugen says. “It sucks when it happens — it maybe happens once or twice a season.”

Haugen says some of the highlights of his Olympic experience were living in the athletes’ village for a few days before the skiing events began, dining with Norway’s King Harald V and Queen Sonja and sharing a house with fellow Norwegian ski team members.

“I stayed in a house with Aksel Lund Svindal — he won a gold, a silver and a bronze — and Kjetil Jansrud. He won a silver,” Haugen says. “So at least I got to hold a medal.”

Haugen’s experience also crystallized his desire to someday win a medal for Norway.

“I’m fired up right now, I’m looking forward to finding out how I can get a lot better,” Haugen says. “The planning is already there.”

Haugen is expected to return to campus and compete for DU in the NCAA championships March 10–13 in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

Alumnus Tom Zakrajsek (BA English and mass communications ’88) coached U.S. women’s champion Rachael Flatt to a 7th place finish in ladies figure skating.

Zakrajsek is based out of the Broadmoor Skating Club in Colorado Springs, Colo.

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