YAROSLAVL, RUSSIA - To the public and the media, Slovakia native Pavol Demitra seemed quiet. Not aloof or rude, just a hockey player who kept to himself.
That's not the person Craig Conroy knew.
Conroy -- a retired forward who played for the Montreal Canadiens, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings and now is assistant to the general manager of the Flames -- is one of many who will remember a good friend on Friday. It will be the one-year anniversary of a plane crash that killed 36 members of the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team, including Demitra.
Conroy remembers Demitra as a fun-loving personality.
"He was a real jokester, really witty," said Conroy, who played with Demitra for five seasons with both St. Louis and Los Angeles. "We'd go to dinner and he was always so fun to be around. I would tell him to show that side of him to everyone."
So, how was he a jokester?
"In St. Louis, we had Lubos Bartecko, Michal Handzus and Ladislav Nagy also from Slovakia, and we'd play cards on the plane," Conroy said and began to chuckle at the memory. "They would speak Slovak and I think they were swindling me. I'd be down a tonne of money, but they'd give me one last chance to make it back.
"I'd be sweating but Pav would have a grin on his face."
Other former NHLers who perished in the crash, which was blamed on pilot error, include Karel Rachunek, Ruslan Salei, Karlis Skrastins and Josef Vasicek.
Coach Brad McCrimmon and assistants Igor Korolev and Alexander Karpovtsev also died on a day so many sadly remember.
"I remember hearing their plane crashed and you were praying that for some reason anybody you know wasn't on the plane," Conroy said of the feelings so many went though.
"But both Brad and Pav were on there. Both those guys, they lived life to the fullest and they were both there because they loved hockey. Brad wanted to be a head coach in the NHL and felt it was best to be a head coach there to get that (experience), and Pavol could have easily not played. He just wanted to play one more year."
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