'Sad and shocking'

Veteran NHL player Sergei Zholtok died Wednesday of an apparent heart ailment while playing hockey...

Veteran NHL player Sergei Zholtok died Wednesday of an apparent heart ailment while playing hockey in Russia. (File Photo)

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

The hockey world was in a state of shock following the death of centre Sergei Zholtok last night.

The 31-year-old, who completed last season with the Nashville Predators, died yesterday after collapsing in the dressing room while suiting up for Riga, Latvia -- his home town -- during a game in Minsk.

"I'm very surprised and sad right now," said Islanders centre Alexei Yashin, who played with Zholtok from 1996-98 with the Senators. "This isn't something you expect. We were close friends and this is hard.

"We used to work out together in the summer from time to time and we also kept in touch quite a bit. We played together on the national junior team in 1991 in Russia and he was a guy I really respected.

"I'm going to miss him."

Mark Gandler, Zholtok's New Jersey-based agent, said he got the news of his client's death in a 5 p.m. call from Minnesota teammate Darby Hendrickson, who is playing in Riga while waiting for the NHL season to start.

According to Gandler, Zholtok -- who had reportedly been diagnosed with cardiac arrhythmia -- went to the dressing room during one of the periods because he was feeling sick. He collapsed on the floor and attempts by the training staff to revive him were unsuccessful.

"The details are sketchy right now," said Gandler. "I spoke with his wife, Anna, and obviously, it was a very difficult conversation. All I can say is I'm in shock. This guy was just a wonderful person. There's not much to say.

"This guy was just a guy who had to work for everything he got. He was such a special person because he had such a great character. He was a leader, but he did it quietly. He wouldn't yell in the dressing room. He'd just go out and get the job done."

A father of two sons -- Edgar and Nikita -- Zholtok hadn't resigned with the Predators after being dealt to Nashville at last year's NHL trade deadline. But Gandler said he was expected to return because GM David Poile was a fan.

"We are all saddened and shocked to hear of Sergei's sudden passing," Poile said in a statement released by the club. "He was a hard-working player who was well-liked by his teammates and coaches."

During his two seasons with the Senators, Zholtok made an impression. He wasn't a 50-goal scorer, but had success on the fourth line and earned respect from his teammates because of his work ethic.

"He was the Russian version of Shaun Van Allen," said former Ottawa assistant Perry Pearn from Hartford, where he's with the Rangers' AHL affiliate. "Sergei Zholtok was a guy who got everything out of everything he had. He got the job done. He was a real positive influence for us and I would say he was key when we beat the New Jersey Devils (in the 1998 playoffs). This is sad and this is shocking. I really feel terribly for his young family. This must be devastating for them."

Zholtok had rejuvenated his NHL career after being picked up by Minnesota in 2002.

"He was just a quality person," said Senators president Roy Mlakar. "This is terrible news. He was a guy who always came to us and wanted to know if there was anything he could do in the community. Sergei Zholtok cared and he always wanted to contribute."


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