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NHL Winter Classic

Pavol Demitra honored at Winter Classic Alumni Game

Keith Tkachuk wears jersey of late Blues teammate during second period

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- The power forward from Massachusetts and the skilled wing born and raised in Slovakia didn't seem to have much in common at first.

But Keith Tkachuk and Pavol Demitra had the language of hockey to unite them on the ice with the St. Louis Blues. Beyond that, there was the special banter, the rapid-fire repartee between teammates, the stuff players talk about missing after they retire.

Tkachuk apparently taught Demitra the art of verbal jabbing almost too well.

"He was an awesome kid," Tkachuk said Saturday at the 2017 NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game. "He was a special player, one of the better players. I felt like he was a little bit on his own. I wanted to bring him in. I started jabbing at him. He learned from that.

"Then I created a monster. I turned this nice boy into a maniac. Then he gave it to me. 'Settle down buddy.'"

The word "monster" was said in a fun manner, the most affectionate way possible after a postcard-type afternoon hockey game at Busch Stadium.

Tkachuk honored his former teammate by wearing Demitra's No. 38 Blues jersey in the second period of an 8-7 win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Demitra, who played eight seasons in St. Louis, died in a 2011 plane crash in Russia with his teammates from Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League. He was 36.

His best NHL days came in St. Louis; he represented the Blues in three NHL All-Star Games, won the Lady Byng Trophy in 2000, and had an NHL career-high 93 points in 2002-03.

Video: Blues defeat Blackhawks in close WC Alumni battle

The jersey tribute also resonated with Peter Stastny, who played six games for the Blues in his final NHL season in 1994-95, was born in Bratislava (then Czechoslovakia), and is now a member of the European Parliament for Slovakia.

"Pavol was like one of my sons," the 60-year-old said. "We spent a lot of time together. My wife was very good friends with his wife. I basically discovered him. I convinced [Mike] Keenan to bring him in here and he was an incredible talent.

"What a talent. A nice, generous person. He had nerves of steel. Great soft hands. Great anticipation and vison, always made the right decision.

"… An immense tragedy. For him and for ice hockey. (Lokomotiv) was like a United Nations hockey team."

Tkachuk wanted to do something to honor his friend but kept his plans quiet in the lead-up to the alumni game.

"It was something we just kept to ourselves," he said. "We wanted to do something to remember our buddy … I'm getting choked up.

"It meant everything to me. He's such a great person. I'm going to always miss him. I always think of him. He should be here. He was a great Blue and a great friend."

Tkachuk said he felt overwhelmed by the entire experience of the alumni game and the setting.

"I'm so happy I did this," he said. "It's going to be one of my best memories ever. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. I don't want it to end."

Video: WC Alumni: Tkachuk scores, celebrates with dab

Tkachuk, 44, scored a goal and managed to earn some credibility points with the younger members of his family, specifically his 14-year-old daughter, Taryn.

"She was watching, so I had to do a dab after I scored for her," he said. "I don't know what it is. But I had to do it because she told me."

The postgame atmosphere was like a family affair for the Blues. Paul Stastny joked around with his father Peter in the dressing room.

"It makes him smile when he wins," Paul said. "Thank God we won. It'd be a bad New Year's party."

Brett Hull and his famous father Bobby Hull held court for the cameras in another part of the room.

"I'm 78 in three days," Bobby said.

Brett: "I think you're a bad counter."

Naturally, Brett had the final word when asked if he was getting his father a birthday present.

"Those days are over," he said, adding, "This is his birthday present."

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