Demitra Lost in Plane Crash
In a recent discussion of the top Blues of all time, I failed to submit a list. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to, it was because I could not objectively put together a list of great Blues. For me, there are few greater Blues than Pavol Demitra. Truth be told, he probably wouldn’t show up on many fans’ top 10 lists, which is a shame.
Pavol Demitra was a gamer. He was clutch. You could count on him to score.
In his 16 year NHL career, half of which were spent playing for the Blues, Demitra played in 847 games, scored 304 goals, added 464 assists for 768 points. He was plus-128 in his career. He scored 59 game-winning goals, 45 of which were for the Blues. In the playoffs, which he played in 11 times with the Blues, the Minnesota Wild, and the Vancouver Canucks, he played in 94 games, scored 23 playoff goals, added 36 assists for 59 playoff points. He made the All-Star team in 1999, 2000 and 2002. In 1999-2000 he won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy.
Twice he was second in games played in the 98-99 season (82) and 2001-2002 (82). His 10 game-winning goals in 2001-2002 led the NHL. Three times he was in the Top 10 in points in the NHL – in 1998-1999 (89 points for 10th); 2001-2002 (78 points for seventh), and 2002-2003 (93 points for sixth in the league.
Demitra came to the Blues by way of Ottawa, where the Senators traded him to the Blues for Christer Olssen in November 1996. The Sens drafted Demitra in the ninth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft.
Demitra died tragically in a plane crash in his native Russia. He was one of 44 people killed on the plane, including other ex-NHL pros and members of a Russian hockey team. His sudden death shocked not only his Blues teammates but former teammates in Vancouver, Minnesota and Los Angeles.
He was just 36 years old when he died.
Interestingly enough, this is the third time a Blues player or alumni died tragically in a crash. Bob Gassoff was killed in a motorcycle accident outside teammate Garry Unger‘s farm in the 1970s. Demitra’s sudden passing was in 2005. Just this past year, the Blues lost an icon and local legend Bobby Plager, who died in a car accident on Highway 40 as he headed to a PR event at the Enterprise Center.
Demitra’s name will not be forgotten by diehard Blues fans, but for those in the new generation who may not be familiar with him or his legacy wearing the Bluenote, he was the last Blues player to average a point-per-game before David Perron did it this past season.
Who was Pavol Demitra?
“People were drawn to Demo. He was a great friend and great teammate,” Matt Keator, Demitra’s agent, told Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “He was always the type to bring people together. This is just awful. He was such a popular guy with everyone he has ever played with.”
A native of Slovakia, Demitra is survived by his wife, Maja, and two children, Lucas and Zara. Demitra and his wife had a third child, Tobias, who died shortly after he was born in 2005. Tobias and Zara were twins.
Demitra grew up in the hockey town of Dubnica but was a soccer player until the age of 14. His father played soccer professionally, but Demitra decided to turn his attention to hockey at the age of 15. Demitra said it was easy to choose the ice over the pitch.
“It wasn’t really a tough decision,” Demitra told columnist Larry Wigge in 2003. “Hockey was always my first love.”
According to the Associated Press in Moscow, A Russian jet crash that killed 44 people, including an entire professional ice hockey team, was caused by pilots inadvertently putting on the brakes during takeoff, investigators said Wednesday, blaming poor crew training and lax oversight.
The Interstate Aviation Committee said the September 7 crash of the Yak-42 plane near the city of Yaroslavl in central Russia occurred because one of the pilots accidentally activated the brakes during takeoff and then pulled the plane up too sharply in a desperate attempt to take off. The team had been heading to Minsk, Belarus, to play its opening game of the Kontinental Hockey League season.
Among the dead were Lokomotiv coach and National Hockey League veteran Brad McCrimmon, a Canadian; assistant coach Alexander Karpovtsev, one of the first Russians to have his name etched on the Stanley Cup as a member of the New York Rangers; and Demitra, who played for the St. Louis Blues and the Vancouver Canucks and was the Slovakian national team captain.
Lokomotiv, Demitra’s team, was traveling to play a game Thursday against Dynamo Minsk. According to Dmitry Chesnokov, a hockey reporter for Yahoo.com, the plane crashed less than a mile from the runway, caught fire, and broke in two, according to a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Ex-Blue Pavol Demitra among 43 dead in plane crash
SovSport, a Russian website, is reporting that a Lokomotiv official confirmed that every player from the team’s main roster was onboard the plane. After earlier reports that a crew member may have been the lone survivor, the website is now reporting that forward Alexander Galimov has survived, according to his agent.
“At first we didn’t want to believe it,” the Lokomotiv official said, according to Chesnokov. “But right now there is no hope. The team is gone.”
Guy Bensing, the founder of the ST Louis Fan Report told me, “I was working second shift here in Hawaii when I first heard of the crash. When they mentioned both Demitra and Igor (Korolev) were among the victims of the crash my heart just sunk.” he paused “I went into the office and a few people saw my face and asked what was wrong? It was impossible for me to explain how that crash affected me that day.”
An Illustrious Career with the Blues
Demitra played 16 years in NHL for St. Louis, Ottawa Senators, Minnesota Wild, Vancouver Canucks, and the Los Angeles Kings. He was drafted by Ottawa in the ninth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. Playing at left wing, he scored 304 goals in the NHL, adding 464 assists for 768 points. He finished his career with a plus/minus rating of plus-124. He scored 204 of his career goals wearing the Blues sweater.
In 1999-2000, at just 25 years old, he posted his best year as a Blue and captured the Lady Byng Trophy. Demitra had 28 goals and 47 assists that year for 75 points and a plus-34 rating. In 2002-03, he posted a career-high 93 points on 36 goals and 57 assists. He made the NHL All-Star game in 1999, 2000, and 2002.
Fans loved Demitra because he always showed up at big times in the playoffs. He played in the Stanley Cup playoffs a total of 11 times – seven times with the Blues, and two times each with Minnesota and Vancouver. In 1999, for instance, his goal in overtime lifted the Blues to a 3-2 playoff victory over the Dallas Stars. In 2001-02, under Joel Quenneville, Demitra led the Blues past the Chicago Blackhawks four games to one in the conference quarterfinals.
They advanced to face the Detroit Red Wings, who were too much for St. Louis to handle in the conference semifinals, losing four games to one. The Red Wings, led by Steve Yzerman and coached by Scotty Bowman, would go on to win the Stanley Cup that year – 4-1 over the Carolina Hurricanes. He led the Blues with 11 points in the 2001-02 playoffs.
Hockey’s Murderer’s Row
Demitra would play on the same Blues team as Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight, Chris Pronger, and Al MacInnis. An aged Marc Bergevin, now the general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, was also part of that crew. The Blues finished second in the Central Division that year to Detroit.
“The St. Louis Blues have lost two members of our family, Pavol Demitra and Igor Korolev, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families as well,” former Blues President and GM John Davidson said in a statement on nhl.com. “Pavol and Igor were both incredibly passionate and dedicated players and their influence in St. Louis was not only felt on the ice but throughout the community.”
Tkachuk said he was “beyond devastated” to learn of the passing of both Demitra and Brad McCrimmon, the former NHL defenseman and assistant coach who was embarking on his first professional head coaching stint with Lokomotiv, in the crash.
“Brad was my teammate in Phoenix and later coached me in Atlanta and was truly a wonderful man who will be greatly missed,” Tkachuk told nhl.com. “Pav was like a brother to me and I cannot believe that he is no longer with us. This is a terrible day for the hockey fraternity. My family’s thoughts and prayers are with their families during this difficult time.”
During his final NHL season, with his wife battling a serious illness at the time, Demitra told nhl.com he considered retiring from hockey altogether.
“I don’t know. It’s 50-50,” Demitra told the Vancouver Sun then. “I love to play hockey but you have to be healthy and your family has to be healthy. Your head has to be clear. To play hockey, everything has to be perfect.”
Healthy once again, Demitra had a terrific first season with Lokomotiv in 2010-11. He had 18 goals and 43 assists in 54 games and was ready to play a second season in Russia after retiring from international play earlier this year.
The fan website notinthehalloffame.com named him No. 92 among players not in the NHL Hall of Fame.
The Hockey Writers.com website also named him among the Blues; top all-time players at No. 8 between David Backes (No. 7) and Alexander Steen (No. 9). Demitra was the last Blue to score at a point-per-game pace; he scored 93 points in 78 games during the 2002-03 season, the site reported. Perron matched that feat this season scoring 58 points in 56 games.
“Demitra was a tremendous goal scorer in his time with the Blues,” hockeywriters.com wrote. “He was traded to the Blues by the Ottawa Senators in 1996 for Christer Olsson. He spent eight seasons in St. Louis, scoring 20-plus goals every year, three were 30-plus goal seasons.”
Blues General Manager Larry Pleau saw Demitra’s talent and promise early on.
“I thought he was always one of our highest-skilled players on our team,” former Blues general manager Larry Pleau told the Post-Dispatch. “He grew up here. I think he really matured and grew up here. Became a better person and a better player. Married, children … you see these things happen, and he was part of your life. It’s shame when you think about the family and his wife and the kids.”
Three Crashes, three different time periods. millions of lives affected. Gassoff in a motorcycle crash on Memorial Day weekend. Demitria in a plane crash in Russia. Plager on Highway 40 going to honor his brother when he was found in his crashed minivan.
Three crashes that have changed our lives forever.
Thanks for reading!
Now, back to full strength …
A St. Louis Blues blogger, NHL podcaster, and writer, and contributor for the STL Fan Report.