The traveling tribute to Pavol Demitra made for an emotional Friday night in Trencin, Slovakia, which is the birthplace of Demitra.
A group of Blues Alumni and a group of Slovakian hockey stars have been staging a series of games to honor Demitra, who died nearly three years ago after he and 43 other passengers passed away in a plane crash in Yaroslavl, Russia.
Demitra played for the Blues from 1996 to 2004. He also played for the Ottawa Senators, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks during his NHL career.
Friday, the series settled in Trencin, the birthplace of Demitra and several other high-profile NHL stars. Demitra’s father, also named Pavol, was on hand for the game and visited the players before the game and also dropped the ceremonial first puck.
The first game was played Wednesday in Propad, Slovakia. Saturday, the final game of the series will be played in the capital city of Bratislava.
On Friday, the Slovakian Stars defeated the St. Louis Blues Alumni, 15-14 in a shootout. Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara scored the winning goal in the shootout.
"The emotions were strong in Poprad. It was a great tribute to Pavol, but Trencin is special,” said Peter Stastny, a Slovakian hockey legend who also starred in the NHL. “Here [Demitra] was at home and you could feel it. There was a lot of talent, success and experience on the ice tonight. All the guys came here to have fun and to do something good; to honor Pavol and to help the young Slovak kids play hockey."
To many, Trencin is the center of the Slovakian hockey universe. It is home to many of the country’s biggest hockey stars and the Stanley Cup has paid a visit to a NHL champion in five of the past seven years, including a stop with Los Angeles Kings forward Marian Gaborik this summer.
Gaborik, one of Demitra’s closest friends, did not play in the game in Poprad, but did play in Trencin, scoring a goal.
"The crowd was great as in the old times,” said Gaborik. “And we had fun on the ice. It was a great idea to organize this event. I already should have been in the [United States] by this time, but I am glad I stayed here and was part of this. Some moments were really emotional."
The high-scoring affair Friday featured three hat tricks. Yan Stastny, the son of Peter Stastny, scored a hat trick for the Blues Alumni while Peter Bondra and Miroslav Satan scored hat tricks for the Slovakian side.
Peter Stastny played half the game for each team, starting with the Slovakian team before joining the Blues and playing on a line with his sons, Yan and Paul, who signed a free-agent deal with St. Louis this summer.
While the game was an emotional trip down memory lane for all involved, for the Slovakians currently in the NHL, it was also a vital tuneup before they return to North America to begin preparations for training camps in mid-September.
"I felt great on the ice,” Chara said. “All these guys, they are great players, great personalities. They've shown respect and understanding, we couldn't have these games without them. It's very nice that everyone wanted to pay tribute to Pavol."