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Legends of Team Canada: Mark Astley

Mark Astley was a smallish defenseman who thrived on his skating and puck skills game but had trouble handling the bigger forwards and the more physical play of the National Hockey League.

Astley, a Calgary, Alberta native, was drafted by the Sabres after just one season at Lake Superior State. "Ash" would complete his college education while playing for the highly regarded hockey school, helping the school win a national championship. In the process he developed into an equally highly regarded offensive and all star defenseman.

Mark finished school in 1992, and finished the hockey season by playing with the Canadian National Team. He would quickly find that the international game, with the bigger ice and more skating, was where he loved to play.
Mark would spend the next two seasons splitting his hockey time between teams in the Swiss League and the Canadian “Nats.” In 1994 his play with the National Team earned him a spot on the Canadian Olympic team which won the silver medal. Mark, who played with the likes of Paul Kariya, Petr Nedved and Brian Savage that year, calls his Olympic experience the highlight of his career.

Mark finally gave the NHL a shot starting in the 1994-95 season. The Sabres sent him down to Rochester of the AHL to adjust to the more physical North American game. The Sabres felt he had adjusted well enough that they included him in 14 regular season games, plus 2 playoff appearances. He registered 2 goals in that 14 game stint. His first, which came on March 24, 1995 in Tampa Bay, also ranks as a career highlight for Mark.

The Sabres desperately needed some skilled puck moving defensemen, so Mark played the entire season with Buffalo in 1995-96. While his 2 goals and 20 points were good enough to place him second among Sabres defensemen, although the Sabres had hoped for more to compensate his lack of strength which limited his defensive game.

Astley became a free agent after that season, and signed a one year deal with the Los Angeles Kings. However he spent the entire injury plagued year back in the minor leagues, this time with the Phoenix Roadrunners.

Mark opted to return to Switzerland where he had so enjoyed hockey prior to his debut in North American pro leagues. He had enjoyed a lengthy career with HC Lugano through the turn of the century.

Mark had what he called "a gold card" in that he held a Swiss passport, making him eligible to be considered a homegrown player and not take up one of the limited import exemptions. The Calgarian held a Swiss passport because his mother, a ski instructor, was born in Switzerland.

Mark’s NHL totals include 4 goals and 23 points in 75 regular season contests.


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