Zezel's loss will be felt in many corners

STEVE SIMMONS

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

Peter Zezel didn't know how to say no.

You asked and he showed up. He smiled and you laughed. He had the disease and made you feel right about it.

It didn't matter what you asked, the answer was always the same. It could have been a kids' hockey practice, help with a tryout, a school appearance, a media spot, or something for charity. Zezel always was there, always willing to role up his sleeves on his massive arms. He lived the way he played the game -- full-out, giving his all, having a blast, living the moment, making others around him better.

The best Tim Kerr scored in Philadelphia came when Zezel was his centre. On the most complete Leafs team since the Stanley Cup winners, he was the checking centre, and the chief faceoff winner. He scored on some teams, defended on others, specialized in the little things that made every team he played for better for his being there.

I would see him often the past few years, around Toronto rinks, a kind of Pied Piper of minor hockey. There was no air about him. There was no attitude. He spoke, kids listened. He walked, they followed. And nobody, just nobody, had a bad word to say about him.

Hard to believe he's gone at the age of 44. Hard to believe we won't see that light-up-the-sky, mischievous, smile of his. Hard to accept.

This and that

Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke would like nothing better than to make a deal with Tampa Bay GM Brian Lawton to move up to the second pick in the NHL draft but it's almost impossible to try to get anything done with Tampa Bay because the two owners, Len Barrie and Oren Koules, aren't on speaking terms and you need three people to agree on something before you can finalize anything ... Also picking ahead of the Leafs are Atlanta, with ownership problems; Colorado, without a general manager; and the Islanders, who may be moving to Kansas City ... And to think, the NHL shut down business for a year in order to get cost certainty and ensure the long-term viability of its members. For the record, the lockout year may have been the most successful financial year in Phoenix Coyotes history ... There seems to be consensus on the top five picks in the NHL draft -- John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene, Evander Kane and Brayden Schenn -- just no consensus on the order in which they'll be chosen.

Hear and there

What a sporting year for playoff stars: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, lighting it up like never before ... The NBA, by the way, loves to trumpet the fact it has banned the drafting of high school players, conveniently forgetting, of course, that Kobe, LeBron and Howard were drafted out of high school ... Why Detroit should win the Stanley Cup: Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Niklas Kronwall are better than any single Pittsburgh defenceman ... If the Penguins don't fire Michel Therrien and replace him with Dan Bylsma, not only do they not get to the Stanley Cup final, they probably don't make the playoffs ... In 14 seasons, the Raptors have won one playoff round. In those same 14 seasons, the Los Angeles Lakers have made the NBA final six times ... The best part about the deal Canadian defensive lineman Israel Idonije signed with the Chicago Bears is that $3-million US of the $7 million is guaranteed and that's pretty unique by NFL standards.

Scene and heard

Smart: Hiring Pat Quinn to coach the Edmonton Oilers. Smarter: Hiring Tom Renney to assist him. And now that GM Steve Tambellini has fixed his coaching staff, all he has to do is fix his messed-up roster ... One more Edmonton question: Where's Rick Ley? ... Should the Blue Jays be looking at the unfriendly Canadian Erik Bedard to enhance their starting pitching? Bedard is back on track and is considered trade bait by the Seattle Mariners ... With Manny Ramirez out until further notice, Orlando Hudson is batting third for the Los Angeles Dodgers, hitting .341 and that has to brown-off the old Hudson basher, J.P. Ricciardi ... When suspended pitcher J.C. Romero was asked what he missed the most about the big leagues, he answered honestly: "My pay cheque." ... This feels weird: Argos camp opens this week and Mike O'Shea, Chad Folk and Jude St. John won't be around ... Don't be surprised to see Pavel Kubina ending up as the big shot on a Western Conference power play next season. The Leafs don't mind having a defence of Tomas Kaberle, Luke Schenn, Ian White, Mike Van Ryn, Jeff Finger and maybe free agent Mike Komisarek ... An NHL scout on pending free agent Jay Bouwmeester: "The hardest thing to do is evaluate a defenceman on a bad team. I don't think anybody really knows how good this guy is."

And another thing

Accusations from alleged drug dealers aside, the NHL can't say it is taking drug testing seriously until it starts testing during the playoffs and testing randomly in the off-season ... If someone didn't know Darryl Sutter and heard him speak for the very first time, wouldn't you think "This guy is in charge of WHAT?" ... A big season for Toronto FC: They play Real Madrid and Real Salt Lake ... If he's available at the ninth pick, Demar DeRozan of USC is the kind of athletic fit the Raptors need. He can play shooting guard or small forward and brings an excitement they lack. Others being mentioned as possible ninth picks: Tyreke Evans of Memphis, DeJuan Blair of Pitt and Duke's Gerald Henderson ... If Jim Balsillie ends up with the Coyotes in Hamilton, which remains a long shot, we're betting the team won't be named Hamilton. It will be named Ontario or Southern Ontario. American NHL owners don't want a franchise called Hamilton, just as they don't want teams called Raleigh or Newark or East Rutherford ... Yesterday, Gale Sayers turned 66, today it's Joe Namath's turn. And a happy birthday to Gizmo Williams (47), Jim Craig (52) and Clint Eastwood (79) ... And hey, whatever became of Kent Manderville?

STEVE.SIMMONS@SUNMEDIA.CA


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