Skip to main content

Sergei Zholtok


The hockey world was shocked on November 3rd, 2004 when former NHL player Sergei Zholtok died of an heart failure during a game in Minsk, Belarus. He was just 31 years old.

Zholtok was playing for Riga 2000 during the National Hockey League lockout season of 2004-05. He was a Nashville Predator at the time, though he was not under contract likely due to the impending labour uncertainty. He was better known for his days in Minnesota and Montreal. The thin-faced Latvian, who arrived in North America not knowing more than a few words of English, also played for Boston and Edmonton.

Zholtok left the bench but collapsed in the hallways leading to the locker room. Close NHL friend and Riga teammate Darby Hendrickson was with him when his heart failed, watching the panicked situation unfold, unable to understand what everyone else was saying.

“As difficult as it was, I’m glad I was there,” Hendrickson said. “I know he would have wanted me there. I know he would have wanted his father there. He’s a guy I loved. I don’t relive my final moments with him. I relive the unbelievable moments I shared with him.”

“Every man dies, but not every man really lives. When you look at Sergei and the way he lived his life, he was someone who was a wonderful family man, a guy who loved his country. He was true to who he was as a man.”

Zholtok had missed games in the past for episodes fainting and fatigue and even frequent flu-like symptoms dating back to January 2003. He was eventually diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat but his allowed to return to the ice.

Zholtok appeared in 588 NHL games from 1992-2004, scoring 111 goals and 147 assists.

``Sergei was a great competitor and a valuable member of our organization for almost three years and will be greatly missed by his teammates and his fans in the hockey world,'' Wild general manager Doug Risebrough said.

“Sergei was a good lesson for me,” admitted Risebrough. “Before Sergei came here I thought he was inconsistent in his play and, at times, it looked like he didn’t care. It was an observation based on what I saw, but not really knowing the individual.

"Jacques (Lemaire) was the one who knew him from his days in Montreal, and he convinced me that what I saw was a lack of a fit, not a lack of caring on the part of Sergei. I completely flipped my thinking because very few players play with as much pride as Sergei did.”

Zholtok was a very popular player in his native Latvia. He and goaltender Arturs Irbe were heavily involved in children's charities in their homeland, often collecting signed NHL memorabilia to have auctioned off.

“ Latvia went through some tough times in the 1990's and many children suffered because of it,” said Zholtok. “Some of these kids have been surrounded by negative things throughout their whole lives. Hopefully, this will give them a chance at a better life.

“I want to be able to talk to these kids. I don't want to call myself a role model, but I think it's very important to be able to communicate with these kids and show we care.”

“I don’t think people in North America can understand what Sergei meant to his country,” said former Wild teammate Wes Walz. “I was told that the country was collectively mourning when he died.”

"He was one of the greatest all time players in Latvian hockey history," said Guntis Keisels, a sports reporter for the newspaper Diena. "Ten years in the NHL is quite an achievement. He was the best goal scorer, the best forward, Latvia ever produced."

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

100 Greatest Hockey Players Of All Time

What follows is a listing of the 100 greatest hockey players of all time, in my opinion. As discussed earlier, the definition of greatness is a very personalized endeavor and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.
While there is no way of ever truly ranking the top 100 definitively, it is important for the creators of such lists to be open and transparent of how the came to their conclusions. That accountability allows the reader to better understand the process. 

Although admittedly I'm using a completely unscientific formula, I weigh career achievements (era statistics, awards, championships) and legacy (impact on and off ice, peak dominance) equally high. I rank player ability as the third most important ingredient, as first and foremost as a tie breaker. Hence, I'm not necessarily looking for the better player, as in text book definitions of what a hockey player should be, but for players with the greatest careers and greatest legacies. Therefore the best player is not n…

Top Ten Junior Players Of All Time

Let's take a look at the Top Ten junior players of all time. For the purposes of this list we will at players in the WHL, OHL and QMJHL only.

10. Pat Lafontaine, Verdun, QMJHL Rookie-record 104 goals, 234 points in 1982-83; major junior player of the year.

9. Denis Potvin, Ottawa, OHL 254 games, 95 goals, 234 assists, 329 points. Broke Bobby Orr's junior records.

8. John Tavares, Oshawa, OHL 215 goals, 433 points in 247 games; most goals in OHL history; eligibility rules changed to admit him at 15; 2006 major junior rookie of the year, 2007 major junior player of the year; two world juniors, named 2009 all-star, top forward and MVP.

7. Sidney Crosby, Rimouski, QMJHL 120 goals, 303 points in 121 games; two-time major junior player of the year; silver and gold with Canada at two world juniors.

6. Eric Lindros, Oshawa, OHL 97 goals, 216 points in 95 games; one Memorial Cup victory; three world junior tournaments; major junior player of the year in 1991.

5. Mike Bossy, Laval, Q…

Greatest Hockey Legends: M