Peter Zezel, 44, longtime NHL player
TORONTO - Peter Zezel, a center who played 15 NHL seasons after breaking into the league with the Philadelphia Flyers as a teenager, has died. He was 44.
Mr. Zezel struggled with the rare blood disease hemolytic anemia for the past 10 years and died yesterday. He had rebounded after being in critical condition in 2001.
"Peter will forever be remembered as a great teammate and a wonderful individual who touched the lives of many both on and off the ice," Mr. Zezel's family said in a statement released by the National Hockey League Players' Association. "In his typical character of generosity, Peter donated his organs through the Trillium Gift of Life Network."
The gritty center was known on the ice for his strong two-way game. In 873 NHL games with Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington, Toronto, Dallas, New Jersey, and Vancouver, he had 219 goals and 389 assists.
His matinee idol looks also earned him a small role in the 1986 hockey-based movie "Youngblood," which starred Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze.
Peter Zezel was born in Toronto and played junior hockey with the Toronto Marlies before the Flyers chose him with the 41st pick in the 1983 draft. He made his NHL debut in 1984 when he was 19.
He scored a career-best 33 goals in the 1986-87 season for the Flyers and recorded a combined 49 assists for Philadelphia and St. Louis in the 1988-89 campaign.
"Peter was the ultimate caring friend and teammate," Toronto Maple Leafs alumni board member Mark Osborne said. "He was so dedicated to his family and friends and he would always freely give of his time and energies to help someone else.
"He was truly a passionate and loyal friend both on and off the ice. Our hockey family is devastated."
Mr. Zezel helped the Maple Leafs to a pair of conference final runs in 1993 and '94 and later spent a couple of seasons with the Vancouver Canucks.
"He was the consummate professional and he always carried himself with great class as a human being," Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke said.