Memorabilia Memories with Rick Ackerman
It was an uplifting yet bittersweet experience two days ago for hundreds of hockey fans that met at the Peabody Opera House to celebrate the life of Pavol Demitra and watch the movie commemorating his hockey career in Slovakia, the NHL (16 seasons) and the KHL in Russia. A panel of alumni, including Brett Hull, Chris Pronger, Scott Mellanby, Kelly Chase, Jamal Mayers and Terry Yake, current Blue Barret Jackman, and television personality Darren Pang recounted personal stories involving #38, some that brought laughter and some that brought tears.
Pavol Demitra was born in November, 1974 in Dubnica nad Vahom, Czechoslovakia. Active in sports as a youngster, Demitra played tennis, football and hockey, yet dedicated his future life and career to hockey since he had always excelled on the ice more than on the court or pitch. Demitra joined HC Dukla Trencin of the premier Extraliga league in Slovakia in 1992. He attracted the notice of NHL scouts (as well as Peter Stastny, a native Slovak who was playing with the Blues in 1993), and the Ottawa Senators drafted Demitra in the ninth round, 227th overall in the 1993 NHL Amateur Draft, perhaps the best player in NHL history ever taken so late in the draft.
Despite meeting a young woman who would later become his wife and mother of his children, Demitra somewhat reluctantly left his native land to pursue his dream, a career in the NHL, the league in which he believed the world's best players performed. And so Demitra started the 1993-94 season with the Ottawa Senators, scoring his first goal on October 9, ironically against Curtis Joseph and the St. Louis Blues at the Old Barn on Oakland. However, that Senators team was loaded with quality forwards and after only 12 games, Demitra (with one goal and two points) found himself on Prince Edward Island toiling for the AHL Senators. Despite the demotion, he worked hard and performed quite well, scoring 18 goals and 41 points in 41 games.
He started the next season in Ottawa, yet after 16 games again found himself back in the AHL, where he continued to excel, scoring 26 goals and 74 points in 61 games. Once again Demitra started the next season, his third, with Ottawa. After 31 games, he had only scored 7 goals and 17 points, and once again was demoted to the AHL Senators, where he went crazy, scoring 28 goals and 81 points in only 48 games.
Apparently the third time was not the charm, and the 1996-97 season saw Demitra suiting up for one game back home with HC Dukla Trencin before returning to North America. The only problem was that he was sent to Las Vegas to play for the IHL Thunder instead of the Senators in Canada's capital. It was after 22 games in Sin City that Demitra came under the watchful eye of Bob Plager, who was scouting the IHL for the Blues at the time. After seeing Demitra play a couple of times, Plager immediately called Ron Caron and Mike Keenan to tell them about the absolute best player in the minor leagues they could and should acquire.
Along with strong advice from Peter Stastny, the Blues began negotiations with the Senators and finally announced a trade on November 27, 1996. In what is now considered a shocking steal, the Blues only gave up Swedish defenseman Christer Olsson, an 11th round pick, 275th overall. He only played 56 NHL games, 25 for Ottawa. Demitra was reassigned by the Blues to Grand Rapids of the AHL, scoring 20 goals and 50 points in 22 games under the watchful eye of Plager. At the end of the 1997 season, the Blues recalled Demitra for eight regular season games (three goals) and six playoff games (one goal and four points). His first NHL goal came against the Islanders' Tommy Salo on April 3, as did his second in the same game (a 5-5 tie). His first playoff goal came against the Red Wings' Mike Vernon later that month in a 4-0 victory. In that one season, Pavol played for four different teams.
The 1997-98 season saw a rejuvenated Demitra excel as he scored 22 goals and 52 points in 61 games, along with three goals and six points in ten playoff games. However the next season was his breakout year, as he began to dominate the league with 37 goals and 89 points in 82 games, his first injury-free season. Demitra would go on to play six more seasons for the Blues, scoring 205 goals and 593 points in 494 games. That does not include 18 goals and 43 points in 66 playoff games. His best personal season with the Blues was in 2002-03 when he potted 36 goals and 93 points.
After playing the lock-out season back home in Slovakia, Demitra returned to the NHL to play for Los Angeles, Minnesota and Vancouver for another five seasons. The 2010-11 season turned out to be a watershed year for the Demitra family. After returning home to Slovakia, it was much better for Pavol to sign with Locomotiv of the KHL in order to be closer to his growing family. After a very successful year in Russia, disaster struck the following season on September 7, 2011 when the team plane crashed on a flight to Minsk, Belarus, killing everyone on the flight.
Thankfully, this horrific disaster and loss is trumped by the many happy and joyous occasions in which Pavol Demitra improved the lives of others and helped them with his strong, positive approach and personality. The Blues alumni keep him alive in their memories and remind all of us how important Demitra was and the tremendous impact he had on all our lives.
R.I.P. Pavol Demitra