A memorial service was held Thursday for Pavol Demitra
, one of 37 members of the Russian hockey team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl who perished in a plane crash last week.
NHL stars Zdeno Chara
, Marian Hossa
and Marian Gaborik
were among the thousands who gathered at the arena in Trencin, Slovakia, where Demitra started his career in 1992. Demitra was the captain of Slovakia's national team at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics.
"In one moment, the family lost a loving father and the whole country a hockey genius," said Igor Nemecek, president of the Slovak ice hockey federation, who said Demitra's No. 38 would be retired. "Palo was an idol and a role model for our young players."
Demitra spent parts of eight seasons with the St. Louis 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 played with five NHL teams -- Ottawa, St. Louis, Minnesota, Los Angeles and Vancouver. In 16 seasons, he had 768 points in 847 games.
"People were drawn to Demo. He was a great friend and great teammate," said Matt Keator, Demitra's agent. "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."
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 chosen 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."
Demitra, who was 36 at the time of his death, 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.