was actually my favorite hockey player for awhile. He played for the Blues
from 1996-2004, during one of the most successful periods in the team's history, before being shipped off in the rather, um, ill-advised dismantling of the team following the NHL lockout.
So it hit me a little extra hard yesterday when I heard Demitra was among those killed yesterday when a plane carrying the members of a Russian hockey team went down in western Russia
. The team was part of the Kontinental Hockey League
, the Lokomotiv
. There were actually two former Blues on board: Demitra and Igor Korolev
, who played only two seasons in the Note before going on to several solid seasons playing for the Maple Leafs.
It's a tragedy for the hockey world as a whole, but the loss of Demitra hits home a little more personally. He was a Blue, and not just any Blue. He was one of the greats.
The star power on the Blues in those years was on the defensive side, with Al Macinnis
and Chris Pronger
the big names. Demitra, though, was the player I watched. He was a playmaker in the truest sense of the word. He was an artist on the ice in an era still dominated by the neutral zone trap, an elegant dancing points machine. All the same, he played with a toughness not often seen in European players, who all too often came over to the NHL without an inkling of the physicality they were signing up for.
In the 1999-2000 season -- one of the great seasons in Blues history, by the way -- Demitra spent just eight minutes in the penalty box, while scoring 75 points in 71 games. He didn't shy away from contact, but he never got caught out of position. His stick was never up, he never got beat and had to reach out and hook his man. He glided up and down the ice, looking as if he were playing some other, more beautiful game than the hockey being played by everyone else.
I've never been a huge hockey fan overall. Baseball is in my blood, football I fell for in '94 when St. Louis got their new team. But hockey? I liked it. I followed it. But I didn't love it. Brett Hull and Adam Oates both had places on my wall as a child, but I never dreamed of scoring the winning goal in anything. So like, yes. But love? No.
I did love watching Pavol Demitra play hockey, though. And I'm very sad this morning that I'll never get to again.