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Many around the hockey world remain in shock over Wednesday’s plane crash that claimed the lives of the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey club.
Cruel reality struck the St. Louis Blues family when news broke of former NHL All-Star Pavol Demitra being on the plane.
Some things in life don’t make sense, this one falls in that category.
Demitra made a ton of money in the NHL but it was his love for the game that had him still playing professionally in the KHL. Ultimately it was his love for hockey that took the Slovakian great from us.
Speaking to some of Demitra’s friends yesterday, many didn’t know what to say and were completely devastated by the news.
Even though Demitra went about his business in a quiet manner he had a tremendous impact on his teammates. “He was just a great guy, tremendous player and a huge talent who would do anything for anyone,” said current Blues D-man Barret Jackman.
Demitra was the ring leader, the don, or whatever word you want to use, of the “Cycling Slovaks” who grabbed the attention of St. Louis hockey fans in the late 1990’s. The Slovakian flavor of Mikhal Handzus, Lubos Bartecko, and Demitra combined for 167 points in the 1999-2000 season en route to the Blues capturing the league’s President’s trophy.
The Blues obviously could have used Demitra in the playoffs who was sidelined with a lingering concussion.
It wouldn’t be long before Ladislav Nagy would come along and join the Slovakian party. The Peter Stastny influence inside the Blues organization could be seen on a nightly basis.
Demitra enjoyed a ton of success during his time in St. Louis scoring 493 of his 768 career points in a Blues uniform. Beginning in the 1998-1999, Demitra would lead the Blues in scoring four of the next five years with his best performance coming in 2002-2003 when he put up 93 points.
He also will go down as one of the greatest Slovakian players in International competition. He once told me his best friends in life growing up were Marian Gaborik and Marian Hossa
Demitra had the whole package during his prime seasons. He had a knack for scoring, in large part because of his incredible shot and exceptional strength on the puck. He could score from all areas of the ice and was automatic on breakaways.
“He had maybe the best snap shot of any player I ever played with,” says Scott Mellanby.
To this day, the line of Demitra, Keith Tkachuk, and Mellanby might be the best line I’ve seen since I began covering the team in 1999-2000.
“We all brought something different to the table, we never had any issues with being honest with one another,” said Mellanby
On the surface it may be hard to explain how Tkachuk and Demitra became such good friends. I specifically remember hearing the two bicker like an old married couple. Listening to them go back and forth after practices became part of the job.
“There were times I had to play Dad and tell them both to settle down,” Mellanby remembers.
At then end of the day they had incredible respect for one another and made each other better both on and off the ice. Tkachuk would often have Demitra over to his house and you could see the bond the Slovakian star had with Tkachuk’s kids in the dressing room. The tradition of having Demitra over to the Tkachuk house would continue even after Demitra left the Blues and played elsewhere.
Each time I would speak to Demitra either after a game or calling him for an interview he would talk about how much he missed the Blues and how he would more than welcome a return. He would always ask how certain players on the team were playing.
Demitra had an unassuming sense of humor and I would challenge him before every interview not to start each sentence with “oh for sure”. He would laugh and say “not a chance”!
The Blues will certainly honor their former star in whatever way they see fit. Personally I think every NHL team should where a patch honoring the entire Lokomotiv organization.
Lokomotiv assistant coach Igor Korolev, who played in 795 career NHL games, was also on the plane and our thoughts are with his family at this time. Korolev was one of the first Russian born players to join the Blues when he came over in 1992.
Mellanby was greatly impacted by Wednesday’s tragedy as he grew to be very close not only with Demitra but also with Brad McCrimmon who accepted the Yaroslavl Head Coaching position this summer. Mellanby played with McCrimmon in Philadelphia while later playing under him in Atlanta where McCrimmon was an assistant coach. The two remained in close contact even after McCrimmon took the KHL job.
Tkachuk was also a former teammate of McCrimmon.
To say this has been a summer of tragedy is an obvious understatement. You can safely assume nearly every NHL player, coach, or media member at some point came in contact with at least one player who lost their life this summer. When you consider the number or Europeans in the NHL today, many were greatly impacted by yesterday’s plane crash.
Out thoughts will continue to be with the families who have unfairly lost their loved ones.
Fo more NHL news please go to www.truehockey.com
More to come,