Peter Zezel has died from his rare blood disorder.
First and foremost I will always remember Peter Zezel for his faceoff expertise and sound defensive game, his reliable play every night and his tough though clean approach to the game. No wonder why he was one of Mike Keenan's favourite players.
I will also remember Peter Zezel as the heartthrob in Philadelphia. Girls swooned after him. His cool hair even landed him a small role in the Hollywood hockey movie Youngblood. He certainly would not look out of place beside Rob Lowe or Patrick Swayze.
Most will remember Zezel as a Flyer or a Maple Leaf, where he spent the bulk of the best years of his career. Because he was such a valuable player even when he was no longer able to contribute offensively, he bounced around the league a lot in later years, with two stops in St. Louis as well as in Washington, Dallas, New Jersey and Vancouver.
But I also remember Zezel as a great person. I had the chance to watch Zezel closely in his final season and a half with the Vancouver. I remember seeing glimpses of the Zezel I watched in Philly and Toronto, but clearly something was weighing on his mind. That was confirmed late in the season when he left on a personal leave. It turned out he desperately wanted to be with his family after his two year old niece had died of leukemia.
Zezel never came back, opting to be with his family. He played senior hockey in Ontario and coached youth hockey and started up a hockey school in Toronto. Rumor had it he would return to the NHL only if he could play for the Leafs. But he did not want to be away from his family any longer.
Maybe something inside of Zezel told him he had better maximize his time with his beloved family. In 2001 Zezel himself fell ill, being diagnosed with the rare and incurable haemolytic anemia blood disorder that destroys red blood cells faster than the body can replace them.
He has been battling this energy zapping disease ever since, taking chemotherapy and even having his spleen removed. All the while he tried his best to keep up his sports camps for kids, encompassing hockey as well as soccer and golf. But last week his organs began to fail and he lapsed into a coma.
On Tuesday he was taken off life support. He was just 44 years old. He died single and with no kids of his own, yet he made a huge impact on the lives of so many kids.