"What a lot of people don’t know is that Peter never said 'no' to someone wanting his autograph or anything someone wanted. Can you go to a school or a hospital?' He'd do it. He was pretty special when it came to that."
-- Rick Tocchet on Peter Zezel
, a solid two-way center during 15 seasons in the NHL, died Tuesday at age 44.
Zezel had struggled on and off with a rare and serious blood disease called hemolytic anemia the past 10 years, and had been in critical condition in 2001. CSNPhilly.com reported that Zezel was taken off life support Tuesday after going into a coma last week. He had undergone chemotherapy and suffered a brain hemorrhage after a recent spleen operation.
Zezel was born in Toronto and played junior hockey with the Marlies before the Philadelphia Flyers
chose him with their first pick, No. 41, in the 1983 Entry Draft. He made the Flyers the next year and had 15 goals and 61 points as a rookie, helping Philadelphia advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
He scored a career-best 33 goals and 72 points in 1986-87 for the Flyers and recorded a combined 49 assists for Philadelphia and St. Louis in 1988-89 after he was traded to the Blues for Mike Bullard. He matched his career-high with 72 points for the Blues in 1989-90.
Zezel again helped the Flyers advance to the Final in 1987, and was part of the Leafs' teams that made the conference finals in 1993 and 1994. He finished with the Vancouver Canucks
In 873 NHL games with Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington, Toronto, Dallas, New Jersey and Vancouver, he scored 219 goals with 389 assists and was a plus-39.
"On behalf of the Maple Leafs, I want to convey our deepest sympathies to Peter’s family, friends and former teammates," Toronto President and General Manager Brian Burke
said in a statement released Tuesday night. "He was the consummate professional and he always carried himself with great class as a human being. Peter will be greatly missed."
Added former teammate Mark Osborne
, a member of the Leafs' Alumni Board: "Peter was the ultimate caring friend and teammate. He was so dedicated to his family and friends and he would always freely give of his time and energies to help someone else. He was truly a passionate and loyal friend both on and off the ice. Our hockey family is devastated."
Zezel was also active in charitable work throughout his NHL career.
"What a lot of people don’t know is that Peter never said 'no' to someone wanting his autograph or anything someone wanted," former teammate Rick Tocchet
, now coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning
, told CSNPhilly.com. "'Can you go to a school or a hospital?' He'd do it. He was pretty special when it came to that."
Zezel remained active in hockey during his post-NHL career, running a successful hockey school and coaching in the Greater Toronto Hockey League with the Don Mills Hockey Association. He was also an active member of the NHL Alumni Association and completed countless hours of charitable work during and following his hockey career.
"Peter will forever be remembered as a great teammate and a wonderful individual who touched the lives of many both on and off the ice," the family said in a statement. "In his typical character of generosity, Peter donated his organs through the Trillium Gift of Life Network."
Material from wire services was used in this report