TORONTO -- Peter Zezel, a center who played 15 NHL seasons after breaking into the league with the Philadelphia Flyers as a teenager, has died. He was 44.
Zezel struggled with a rare blood disease called hemolytic anemia the past 10 years. He suffered from the ailment off and on, but had rebounded after being in critical condition in 2001.
The Toronto Sun reported that Zezel was admitted to the hospital last week for scheduled surgery, but complications developed and his conditioned worsened. The gritty center who became known for his strong two-way game died Tuesday.
In 873 NHL games with Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington, Toronto, Dallas, New Jersey and Vancouver, Zezel had 219 goals and 389 assists.
"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 issued Tuesday night. "He was the consummate professional and he always carried himself with great class as a human being. Peter will be greatly missed."
In addition to being a very popular player during his stint with the Leafs from 1990-94, Zezel also starred for the Toronto Marlboros of the Ontario Hockey League during the 1982-83 and 83-84 seasons.
"Peter was the ultimate caring friend and teammate," said Mark Osborne, a member of the Leafs' Alumni Board who once played with Zezel. "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."