Yesterday, the hockey world was stunned by the death of Zarley Zalapski.
Zalapski, 49, was Pittsburgh's first-round pick in 1986.
The highly-touted blueliner was putting up All-Star numbers with the Penguins when he was traded to the Hartford Whalers, along with John Cullen and Jeff Parker, for Ron Francis, Grant Jennings, and Ulf Samuelsson on March 4, 1991. This was a true blockbuster deal which altered the courses of both franchises.
After a productive run in Hartford, Zalapski toiled in Calgary, Montreal, and Philadelphia, before retiring in Switzerland during the 2009-10 campaign.
Jim Matheson wrote
of Zalapski's playing career, in The Edmonton Sun
He was his own man, through and through, marching to beat of his own drum, a marvelously talented player who possibly could have been better if he’d hungered for success more, but was still a sight for sore eyes on a lot of nights with his gifts.
I caught up yesterday with Vegas Golden Knights Senior Vice President Murray Craven and Tampa Bay Lightning Assistant General Manager Pat Verbeek, who shared memories of their former Whalers teammate.
HockeyBuzz: What are your thoughts about Zarley's passing?
Murray Craven: It just comes as a shock. He's a younger man than I am. Whenever that's the case, takes you a little more by surprise.
I have fond memories of him. We played together in Hartford. We had a terrific time. I really liked him.
I knew him after when he lived in Calgary. Saw him around last few years. I probably saw him six months ago.
HB: What's your favorite Zarley story?
MC: We always used to have this...(laughs) There's a few, I have to think if I could tell you.
Him and Randy Cunneyworth were teammates. Cunneyworth drove a Suburban. Whenever we'd be on a bus or something, going somewhere, and pass a Suburban, Zarley would go, "Cunny, look it, that's how stupid you look." (laughs)
That's before Suburbans were really kind of a thing.
He was a very talented guy.
Biggest set of legs on him that maybe I've ever played with.
HB: Like thick thighs?
MC: Huge. Huge. Powerful skater.
He was a good-natured guy, always happy-go-lucky. It's a hard day.
HB: Is there one word you could use to describe Zalapski?
MC: Geez, he's more complex than one word, that's for sure.
He was a talented guy who...he was a deep thinker. He was a deep thinker. Might have held him back a bit.
HockeyBuzz: What's your favorite Zarley story?
Pat Verbeek: One of the things that Zarley liked to do now and then, he had this song that he always liked to sing on the intercom on the bus. "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)."
He knew all the words to the song. It was actually pretty funny to watch him sing it. And he sang it with passion.
HB: Any more thoughts about him?
PV: Zarley was a phenomenal athlete. He could really shoot the puck. He was a dangerous player offensively. He was a good teammate.
He was a muscular kid. Very well put together. You could tell he trained hard. Passionate about the game.
I still can't believe it. I'm kind of in shock.
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