Zezel loses battle with blood disorder

Peter Zezel has been fighting a rare blood disease on and off the past 10 years. (Sun Media File)

Peter Zezel has been fighting a rare blood disease on and off the past 10 years. (Sun Media File)

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:29 AM ET

The Toronto hockey community is mourning not only a fine player, but an ambassador of the game, gone all too soon at age 44.

Peter Zezel died yesterday afternoon at Toronto Western Hospital from complications of a blood disorder that he'd battled for a decade. Condolences for the 15-year NHLer poured in last night from teammates, friends fellow coaches, his hockey school students and Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley.

"Peter was the ultimate caring friend and teammate ... our hockey family is devastated," close friend and Maple Leaf linemate Mark Osborne said.

"I will always remember the great friendships he made, how he loved to play, whether it was soccer or hockey," said Wendel Clark, captain of the Leafs during the early 1990s when Zezel was a key centre of back-to-back conference finalists.

"His biggest asset as a player was his brain," Clark said. "He started in the league around the same time I did (in the mid 1980s) and was drafted as an offensive player.

"But through 15 years he was smart enough to ask himself 'how can I help this team in other ways?' He became a strong defensive player and that's how he lasted so long."

Zezel nearly succumbed to hemolytic anemia in 2001, but recovered to lead a near normal life. But during spleen surgery last week to combat a flare-up of the condition, major complications developed. He was taken off life support yesterday afternoon.

"Peter will forever be remembered as a great teammate and a wonderful individual, who touched the lives of many both on and off the ice," a statement from the Zezel family read. "In his typical character of generosity, Peter has donated his organs through the Trillium Gift of Life Network. We would like to thank all of Peter's friends and family for their support and we ask for privacy during this difficult time."

The family has requested in lieu of flowers that donations be made to the James Birrell Fund at the Hospital for Sick Children.

One of Zezel's post-playing projects was helping launch the Canadian Multicultural Hockey League, believing the best way to help newcomers to Toronto and Canada was promoting the game in their individual ethnic communities.

"The hockey community has suffered a great loss today," said Glenn Healy, director of player affairs for the NHLPA.

Zezel played 15 years in the NHL with the Flyers, St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals, Leafs, Dallas Stars, New Jersey Devils and the Vancouver Canucks, covering 873 regular season games, with 219 goals and 389 assists.


Videos

Photos