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Demitra remembered as 'great friend, teammate'

by Dave Lozo
Pavol Demitra, who played parts of 16 NHL seasons with five teams, was among the at least 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 Demo. 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 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.

"The St. Louis Blues have lost two members of our family, Pavol Demitra and Igor Korolev, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families as well," Blues President and GM John Davidson said. "Pavol and Igor were both incredibly passionate and dedicated players and their influence in St. Louis was not only felt on the ice, but throughout the community."

Former Blues forward Keith Tkachuk said he was "beyond devastated" to learn of the passing of both Demitra and Brad McCrimmon, the former NHL defenseman and assistant coach who was embarking on his first professional head coaching stint with Lokomotiv.

"Brad was my teammate in Phoenix and later coached me in Atlanta and was truly a wonderful man who will be greatly missed," Tkachuk said. "Pav was like a brother to me and I cannot believe that he is no longer with us. This is a terrible day for the hockey fraternity. My family's thoughts and prayers are with their families during this difficult time."

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, where he was united with fellow Slovak Marian Gaborik.

The two became close friends.

"Demo, u will always b in my heart," Gaborik tweeted Wednesday night. "U were one of my best friends on and off the ice. U will be greatly missed by all of us. My condolences..."

In Minnesota, 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.

In a statement, the Canucks said: "It is with great sadness that we learn of the sudden passing of Pavol Demitra and his colleagues of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey club today. Pavol was dedicated and passionate about his young family and the game of hockey. Pavol was a valued teammate and member of our organization and will be sorely missed. We send our deepest condolences to the entire Demitra family and their friends so affected by this tragedy."

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.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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