Another tragedy for Wild: Demitra among 43 dead in plane crash

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 8, 2011 - 6:41 AM

Former Wild player Pavol Demitra was one of 43 killed in the crash of a plane carrying a Russian hockey team, adding to a sad summer in the NHL.

view larger photos

  

Pavol Demitra's two children used to spend time playing after games in the Wild locker room, where their chrome-headed father with the most mischievous grin was as old-school a hockey player as they got.

His shoulder pads were a decade old, his skates had dull blades, his stick was wooden.

Memories like that are all that's left for his former teammates and fans. The 36-year-old Slovakian national hero died with 42 others when a plane carrying his Russian hockey team crashed Wednesday.

"I'm almost kind of still in shock," said Wes Walz, Demitra's former Wild linemate. "I've never heard of a whole team going down. I don't really have another word. It's amazing.

"Demo was like the Wayne Gretzky of Slovakia. This is one of the best players ever to play from that country."

A tragic summer for hockey -- NHL players Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak have died in the offseason -- took an unfathomable turn with the crash in central Russia. The plane carried players and coaches from Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, a Kontinental Hockey League team heading to Minsk, Belarus, for the season opener.

Marian Gaborik, the former Wild star who was Demitra's bosom buddy for two years with Minnesota, was shaken by the news, leaving the New York Rangers' practice facility quickly Wednesday morning. Late in the afternoon, Gaborik tweeted, "Demo, u will always b in my heart. U were one of my best friends on and off the ice. U will be greatly missed by all of us."

"Pav was like a brother to me, and I cannot believe that he is no longer with us," former St. Louis Blues linemate Keith Tkachuk said. "This is a terrible day for the hockey fraternity."

Also killed in the crash were former NHLers Ruslan Salei, Karlis Skrastins, Josef Vasicek and Karel Rachunek, as well as first-year coach Brad McCrimmon, a longtime NHL defenseman who until last season was an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings.

"The hockey world mourns yet again. Please God, we can't take much more," Rangers forward Brandon Prust wrote on his Twitter account.

The cause of the crash of the Yak-42 private aircraft wasn't immediately known, but the plane reportedly couldn't gain altitude shortly after takeoff and slammed into the Volga River near the airport at Yaroslavl, a city about 150 miles northeast of Moscow. All but one player -- Alexander Galimov -- was killed. Galimov, 26, reportedly has burns across more than 80 percent of his body and is in critical condition.

Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, called it the "darkest day in the history of the sport."

Added NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: "Though it occurred thousands of miles away from our home arenas, this tragedy represents a catastrophic loss to the hockey world -- including the NHL family, which lost so many fathers, sons, teammates and friends who at one time excelled in our league."

A love for the game

After spending two years with the Vancouver Canucks, Demitra could have retired. He had made plenty of money, but he loved playing the game too much. So last season, he began playing in the KHL.

"He was having a lot of fun playing over there and finishing off his career before he retired in the next year or two," agent Matt Keator said. "People were drawn to Demo. He was a great friend and teammate everywhere he went. He loved the game and loved to play. He was all about having fun."

Demitra was highly decorated in his native Slovakia, playing in multiple tournaments before announcing his retirement from international competition in May.

"Demo was loved by all his Slovakian counterparts, especially the younger guys that watched him play growing up in his homeland," Walz said. "He'd often be talking to another Slovakian kid before a morning skate. You could just see in the kids' eyes how they looked up to Demo almost like a father figure."

He was a highly skilled playmaker who was considered one of the biggest draft steals in NHL history. Selected 227th overall in the ninth round of the 1993 draft by Ottawa, Demitra went on to score 304 goals and 768 points in parts of 16 seasons with Ottawa, St. Louis, Los Angeles, the Wild and Vancouver.

Immediate impact with Wild

The Wild acquired Demitra at the 2006 draft from the Kings for Patrick O'Sullivan and a first-round pick -- a trade that signified the Wild was trying to elevate itself to playoff contender.

Those two years with Demitra -- 2006-07 and 2007-08 -- were indeed the last time the Wild made the playoffs, claiming its only division crown in 2008.

A big reason the Wild acquired Demitra was to entice Gaborik, who was a year from unrestricted free agency, to re-sign. It worked; he re-upped for three years after pressure from Demitra.

The two were magic when healthy, with Demitra often looking for his comrade with saucer passes and lobs up the center of the ice. Gaborik's 42-goal season in 2007-08 is a Wild record.

Demitra's death comes less than four months after Boogaard, one of Gaborik's closest friends with the Wild and Rangers, also died.

"I exchanged text messages with Gabby, and I just told him, 'Sorry about everything.' It's been a tough grind for him," Walz said. "He just said he appreciated it. Like, what do you say? What do you do?

"He was so close with Demo and Boogey. This is two very big hits. Losing two friends like this can be devastating. I hope he has a good support group around him to get him through this, but if I know Marian, he'll be able to get through this. I'm sure he'll have an unbelievable year for Demo."

  • JET CRASH IN RUSSIA

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

San Francisco - WP: M. Bumgarner 8 FINAL
Pittsburgh - LP: E. Volquez 0
Minnesota 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Dallas
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Denver
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Seattle 10/6/14 7:30 PM
Washington
Washington 1 FINAL
Buffalo 6
Carolina 3 FINAL
Columbus 6
Pittsburgh 2 FINAL
Detroit 0
Montreal 3 FINAL
Chicago 1
Arizona 2 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Fla Atlantic 6:00 PM
FIU
UCF 6:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Syracuse
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Army
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Maryland
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Eastern Mich 10/4/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Texas 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Indiana
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Texas
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Clemson
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Colorado
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rutgers
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rice
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Kentucky
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Virginia
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Winnipeg 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Edmonton 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Hamilton 10/10/14 6:00 PM
Toronto
Ottawa 10/11/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Which local pro team are you most excited about?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close