Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The "summer of sorrow"

That's how Star-Tribune NHL writer Mike Russo headlined his blog post today, announcing the death of former Wild center Pavol Demitra in a plane crash in Russia. An entire team was lost in the crash, including at least seven players and coaches with NHL experience, but Demitra's loss strikes the State of Hockey directly.

There have been a number of memorable nights in the first 10 seasons at Xcel Energy Center, but perhaps the biggest regular-season game was April 3, 2008. With just two games left in the season, the Wild needed a win over Calgary to clinch their first-ever division championship. That night, the player who best answered the call was Pavol Demitra.

The Wild had acquired Demitra in their first-ever "blockbuster" trade to play center alongside fellow Slovakian Marian Gaborik, and the two had instant chemistry. On that April night - as you can see from the highlights below - Demitra first set up Todd Fedoruk for the tying goal and then, with the score tied 1-1 in the 3rd period, he threw a beautiful cross-ice pass to spring Gaborik, who went in to score what would be the game-winner. The Wild had their first championship.

Demitra played two seasons here, scoring 40 goals and 118 points in 139 games, and was a thrill to watch.

The Wild have played just 10 seasons, and about 160 players have worn Iron Range Red. With Demitra's passing, we have now lost three of them, including Sergei Zholtok and Derek Boogaard. The odds of losing three athletes from one team before the age of 40 seem very high.

R.I.P., Pavol, and thanks for helping us hang a banner.

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