Tragedy Rocks Hockey World Again

What more can you say at this point? The tragic summer of 2011 continues with today’s news of the plane crash in Russia carrying the Lokomotiv hockey club from the Kontinental Hockey League. Former Wild player Pavol Demitra was one of the members of that team and has been confirmed as deceased.

And here we are, contemplating another death of a player we used to cheer for on a nightly basis.

The Wild released a statement, and it seems as though there have been too many of these that have gone out over the years:

“The Minnesota Wild organization joins the rest of the hockey world in mourning the tragedy involving the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey club. Pavol Demitra was a valuable member of our team for two seasons and helped the Wild claim its first-ever Northwest Division title in 2008. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Demitra family as well as all of the families that lost loved ones today.”

Demitra wasn’t here as long as Derek Boogaard or Sergei Zholtok, who were arguably two of the top 10 most popular players in club history. But Demitra was a big time player and his acquisition at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft was one of the most important moves in Wild history.

That trade signified that the Wild would instantly become a playoff contender, and it was. In his two years in a Wild uniform, Demitra helped lead Minnesota to the postseason both times, including a Northwest Division title in 2008.

He tied Brian Rolston for the team lead in scoring in 2006-07 with 64 points on 25 goals and 39 assists. The next year, he put up 15 goals and 39 assists in 68 games, helping Gaborik to his greatest year as a pro, a 42-goal, 83-point campaign.

While his time in Minnesota was short, Demitra left some lasting images. He was one of the few Wild players to use a wooden stick. After a goal by a linemate, he would raise his arms, open his mouth as if trying to ingest an entire porterhouse steak and get the most intense look in his eyes. He appeared happiest on the ice when Gaborik scored, as opposed to when he scored a goal himself.

Demitra and Gaborik had an amazing chemistry, finding each other on the ice without looking and with defenders surrounding them. There was one play (and after a long and unsuccessful search on the internet) where those two were basically toying with the opponent on an odd-man rush that included another Slovakian, Branko Radivojevic. Branko was wide open for what seemed like minutes, but Demitra and Gaborik just played catch before finishing off the play.

In his postgame press conference, Jacques Lemaire did an imitation of Radivojevic skating to the bench with a bewildered look on his face and a shrug of the shoulders.

In addition to Demitra’s wife, children and the families of the other victims, you have to feel especially sorry for Gaborik at this time. He was reportedly devastated by the death of Boogaard in May, and just four months later, he loses another great friend and teammate.

These awful news reports feel like punches to the gut with your hands being held behind your back. There’s nothing you can do to stop them, and they just keep coming, and one can’t fathom how it feels for someone like Gaborik.

We all lose people that are close to us, and sometimes people perish that we should celebrate more, such as soldiers who are fighting for our freedoms, or others who die trying to help others.

Still, whether you knew Demitra well or not, it hurts. He was too young to die, and his young children have lost their father. Please keep those youngsters, Lucas and Zara, his wife Maja, and all of those who had loved ones taken from them in your thoughts and prayers. There’s not much more you can do, and that’s what has made this summer so hard for the hockey world.


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