Ace has heart

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:47 AM ET

The NHL media guide indicates Calgary's Mark Astley retired a decade ago after three uneventful seasons as a Buffalo Sabre. But scanning the ice this week at Father David Bauer Arena confirms the 36-year-old defenceman is still very active, despite falling off the NHL's radar screen.

"I'm probably the oldest Black Ace there is but you never stop learning," said a smiling Astley, one of five extra players sweating through Team Canada's camp.

After playing his minor hockey in Calgary, Astley suited up with the AJHL's Canucks in 1987-88 before spending four seasons at Lake Superior State. Joining Canada's national team program in 1991-92 culminated in a silver medal at the '94 Lillehammer Games, a heartbreaking shootout loss to Sweden.

After eventually earning his shot with the Sabres, playing a total of 75 games over three years, Astley hooked up with HC Lugano in Switzerland, the country he's called his hockey home the past nine seasons.

After a five-week hiatus, he's back on skates this week with some of the game's biggest names, although Astley isn't expected to travel to Austria when the tournament begins April 30.

"It's funny being the oldest guy here and kind of being anonymous, it's kind of a different feeling," says Astley, once again grinding away under the supervision of assistant coach Tom Renney, who coached Canada's Olympic effort in '94.

"I kind of welcome it in a way. These guys are the superstars, phenomenal players and I find myself watching these guys and trying to improve.

"The guys have been great, management and coaches have treated us really well, the guys on the ice have been really good making us feel like we're part of it and that's good. "

Although the silver medal was painful disappointment 11 years ago, Astley now considers the feat a career high.

"Just being on the Olympic team was a thrill and going into the medal rounds," Astley said.

"At the time, losing was one of the most disappointing feelings. Yet, as the years go by, it's something I've grown very proud of. You never know how long you're going to be in the NHL and, for me, it was cut short, so being in Lillehammer I realized how special it was. When Canada won gold (at Salt Lake in 2002), I was like, 'Gee, that could have been us.' "

Being entrenched in European hockey has turned Calgary into his family's second home.

Wife Leigh, daughter Makenna, 4, and son Danton, 1, spend almost the entire year overseas and just three months here, although he realizes his hockey days are winding down.

"Life there is good," Astley says.

"We have what we call a vacation spot here. We're only home three months of year and it's a place we can come back to but our residence is Switzerland."


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