Sunday, November 20, 2005
No, the fighting back tears stemmed from the tributes and reminiscences from coaches, players and fans remembering their teammate Sergei Zholtok who died November 3, 2004, from heart failure. He died in the arms of teammate Darby Hendrickson during a game in Minsk, Belarus, where both of them were playing for Zho's hometown of Riga, Latvia.
Zho joined the Wild in June 2001, coming from the Edmonton Oilers. He was part of the incredible Wild juggernaut that, in the 2002-2003 season, had this young Wild Team in the Cup playoffs; the team twice coming back from a 3-1 series deficit. The Wild beat both the Colorado Avalanche and the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs, only to lose the next series playoff to the Anaheim Ducks.
The tributes, the video footage of Zho on the ice, the scrapbook memories - all magnificently done, recalling and remembering a man who loved hockey and those of us who loved watching him play the game. And all went well until Edgar Zholtok, Zho's 16 year old son, dropped the ceremonial puck. I don't think there were many, if any, dry eyes in the arena or watching on television.
So it seems befitting that the Wild would beat the Predators last night. You see, the Wild traded Zho to Nashville in March 2004, eight months before he died. And what followed was, of course, the great NHL lockout of the 2004-2005 season.
When the great names of hockey are mentioned, those names include Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Brett Hull, Sid Abel, Bobby Orr. There is no doubt that the name Sergei Zholtok will be included with those names. His name would be included with those names anyway, at some point in the future. The sad and tragic part of it is, it happened way too early for Zho, his family, his teammates, and his fans.
"He was such an optimistic guy with so much passion for life, he changed the way you looked at life," said Darby Hendrickson. "I miss him. I wish I could talk to him about being in Europe because I know how excited he would be. What a guy."
What a guy, indeed.
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