Pavol Demitra, who played parts of 16 NHL seasons with five teams, was among 43 people killed in a plane crash Wednesday near the city of Yaroslavl, Russia. The plane was carrying members of the KHL team Lokomotiv, which included several former NHL players.
Demitra, 36, signed with Lokomotiv in 2010 and was embarking on his second season with the team. In 847 career NHL games over 16 seasons with the Ottawa Senators, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks, Demitra had 304 goals and 768 assists. Internationally, he had 6 goals and 14 assists for Slovakia during three trips to the Olympics and led the tournament in scoring in 2010 with 10 points.
"People were drawn to (Demitra). He was a great friend and great teammate," Matt Keator, Demitra's agent, told Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "He was always the type to bring people together. This is just awful. He was such a popular guy with everyone he has ever played with."
A 'Great Friend and Teammate'
Pavol Demitra, who ranks fifth on the Blues' all-time scoring list, was among the players who died in a plane crash in Russia on Wednesday (Getty Images)
A native of Slovakia, Demitra is survived by his wife, Maja, and two children, Lucas and Zara. Demitra and his wife had a third child, Tobias, who died shortly after he was born in 2005. Tobias and Zara were twins.
Demitra grew up in the hockey town of Dubnica, but was a soccer player until the age of 14. His father played soccer professionally, but Demitra decided to turn his attention to hockey at the age of 15. Demitra said it was easy to choose the ice over the pitch.
''It wasn't really a tough decision,'' Demitra told columnist Larry Wigge in 2003. ''Hockey was always my first love."
Demitra played one season for his hometown team and two for HC Dukla Trenèín before he was drafted by the Senators in the ninth round of the 1993 Entry Draft. Demitra spent most of the next three seasons with the AHL's Prince Edward Island Senators while making brief appearances with the big club.
"I remember sitting at the draft with Pavol Demitra, him baiting the Ottawa Senators to draft him with his little red sports coat on," said Rich Winter, Demitra's former agent, to The Team Edmonton 1260. "It was unknown to him why he went so late (in the draft) but he committed to me the minute he was drafted that he would show these guys with hard work and determination. He'd become the only ninth-round pick at forward that I ever known to make the NHL team right after the draft."
The Blues acquired Demitra in a trade in 1996 after he was a holdout with the Senators. Demitra spent parts of eight seasons with the Blues and scored at least 35 goals three times. He made the All-Star team three times as a member of the Blues and is the franchise's fifth-leading scorer all time with 493 points in 494 games. In 2000, he won the Lady Byng Trophy thanks largely to having just 8 penalty minutes in 71 games.
Demitra returned to Slovakia during the lockout and spent the 2004-05 season playing again for HC Dukla Trencin in the Slovak Extraliga. In 54 games, he had 28 goals and 54 assists.
When the NHL returned, so did Demitra. He signed a three-year deal with the Kings and had 62 points in 58 games, missing time due to various injuries. It would be his only season in Los Angeles, as he was traded during the offseason to the Wild.
Demitra was once again a productive player. He had 64 points in 71 games in his first season with the Wild and added 15 goals and 39 assists in 68 games the following season.
Demitra signed his final NHL contract with the Canucks in 2008. After a 53-point regular season in 2008-09, he suffered a shoulder injury in the playoffs that cost him most of the following season. He played just 28 regular-season games for the Canucks in 2009-10 and had 2 goals and 4 assists in 11 playoff games.
During his final NHL season, with his wife battling a serious illness at the time, Demitra said he considered retiring from hockey altogether.
"I don't know. It's 50-50," Demitra told the Vancouver Sun then. "I love to play hockey but you have to be healthy and your family has to be healthy. Your head has to be clear. To play hockey, everything has to be perfect."
Healthy once again, Demitra had a terrific first season with Lokomotiv in 2010-11. He had 18 goals and 43 assists in 54 games and was ready to play a second season in Russia after retiring from international play earlier this year.