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Born April 22, 1965(1965-04-22),
Toronto, ON, CAN
Died May 26, 2009 (aged 44),
Toronto, ON, CAN
Height
Weight
5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)
200 lb (91 kg; 14 st 4 lb)
Position Centre
Shot Left
Pro clubs Philadelphia Flyers
Washington Capitals
St. Louis Blues
Toronto Maple Leafs
Dallas Stars
New Jersey Devils
Vancouver Canucks
NHL Draft 41st overall, 1983
Philadelphia Flyers
Career 19841999

Peter Zezel (Serbian: Petar Žeželj or Петар Жежељ) (April 22, 1965 — May 26, 2009) was a Canadian professional ice hockey centre who spent 15 seasons in the National Hockey League between 1984 and 1999. He was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario.

Contents

Playing career

Zezel was selected 41st overall in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. While he joined the NHL as a skilled offensive player and put up high scoring numbers in his first 8 seasons, he spent the second half of his career primarily as a defensive specialist noted for his strong faceoff skills.

Zezel joined the Flyers' lineup in the 1984–85 at the age of 19 and made an instant impact, finishing 5th in rookie scoring with 61 points and setting a team record 46 assists by a rookie. He was part of an young Flyer team (with 8 regulars under the age of 22, and only Mark Howe over the age of 27) which surprised the hockey world by reaching the Stanley Cup Final, where they were beaten out by the Edmonton Oilers. The Flyers' head coach at the time was Mike Keenan, who became one of Zezel's biggest influences, and who would re-acquire Zezel several times later in their careers.

After a 54-point sophomore campaign, Zezel had his best year in 1986–87, registering career highs of 33 goals and 72 points (despite missing 9 games to injury) while continuing to impress with his mature all-around game. That spring, he would again help the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals, registering 13 points before the team was again bested by the Oilers.

The Flyers dealt Zezel to the St. Louis Blues midway through the 1988–89 in exchange for Mike Bullard. Zezel played some of the best hockey of his career for the Blues, finishing the season with a career high 49 assists and 70 points. In the playoffs that year, he lead the Blues with 6 goals and 12 points in just 10 games. In 1989–90, he had another fine season, posting 25 goals and 72 points.

In 1990 St. Louis dealt him to the Washington Capitals for Geoff Courtnall. His stay in Washington was brief, as he appeared in only 20 games before being dealt to his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs in a deal for Al Iafrate. He finished the 1990–91 season with 40 points in 52 games due to injury. In 1991–92, he recorded 49 points in 64 games in another year hampered by injury.

The hiring of Pat Burns as the Maple Leafs' head coach in 1992 represented a turning point in Zezel's career. While he had previously always been given a great deal of offensive responsibility, the defensive-minded Burns employed Zezel almost exclusively as a checking line center, and his numbers plummeted. Additionally, he continued to be plagued by injuries, missing half the 1993–94 season with an ongoing back problems that had bothered him for several years. However, when healthy he was still an effective player, and helped Toronto reach the Western Conference Finals in both 1993 and 1994, including a Game 1 overtime winner in the 1994 Western Finals.

In the summer of 1994, Zezel was awarded to the Dallas Stars as compensation for the Leafs' signing of free agent Mike Craig. His one season in Dallas was a disappointment, as he was limited to just 30 games and 11 points by a knee injury. For 1995–96, he was signed by the St. Louis Blues and his old coach Mike Keenan.

Dealt to the New Jersey Devils in 1997, his career hit a low point in the 1997–98 campaign when he was sent to the minors for the first time in his career. He performed well in the AHL with 50 points in 35 games for the Albany River Rats. Brought back from the minors by Keenan, who was coaching in Vancouver at the time, Zezel scored a goal on his first shift as a Canuck. He was given a chance to contribute offensively alongside star winger Alexander Mogilny, and he responded with 17 points in 25 games.

Zezel's career ended abruptly at the trade deadline late in the 1998–99 season. Zezel's niece Jilliann was terminally ill with cancer in Toronto and he requested a trade from the Canucks (who were far out of the playoff race) to an Eastern Conference team so he could be closer to his family in their time of need. Instead, Vancouver General Manager Brian Burke dealt him to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, the furthest stop from Toronto in the league. Zezel retired from the NHL and returned home, with Burke and Canucks' management receiving criticism from a media and public sympathetic to Zezel's situation and for the callous way they thought he was treated.

He finished his career playing 873 games, scoring 219 goals and 389 assists, with a total of 608 points.

Off-ice

Zezel was a top soccer player in his youth, and played for Canada's U-21 team as a teenager. During off seasons early in his career he continued to play competitively. Zezel was drafted by the Toronto Blizzard of the North American Soccer League [1], and may have appeared in 3 games for them in 1982 [2]. He never appeared in an official NASL game[3]. Zezel also played for a short while with the North York Rockets in the CSL.

Zezel had a small role in the 1986 film Youngblood.

Retirement and death

Since 1998, Zezel operated the Peter Zezel Hockey and Sports Camps in Etobicoke, Ontario. The camps teach and improve the hockey and soccer skills of young players from the ages of 5 to 14 years.

In 2001, Zezel almost died of the rare blood disorder that eventually claimed his life: hemolytic anemia. At the time he made a full recovery, but in 2009 his condition worsened and he was "close to death".[4] Zezel underwent chemotherapy and had his spleen removed as part of his treatment.

Shortly after his spleen-removal surgery, Zezel began complaining of serious headaches. Roughly 12 hours later, he (once again) went under the knife, during which time surgeons had found hemorrhaging in his brain. He slowly lapsed into a coma, and was placed on life-support once his organs began to fail.

In the nature of his giving spirit, Zezel wanted to donate his organs. Therefore, his family made the decision to remove him from life support before they were rendered useless.

Peter Zezel died on May 26, 2009 and was buried at the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Mississauga [5]. Zezel never married and had no children. [6]

Career statistics

    Regular season   Playoffs
Season Team League GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM
1982–83 Toronto Marlboros OHL 66 35 39 74 28 4 2 4 6 0
1983–84 Toronto Marlboros OHL 68 47 86 133 31 9 7 5 12 4
1984–85 Philadelphia Flyers NHL 65 15 46 61 26 19 1 8 9 28
1985–86 Philadelphia Flyers NHL 79 17 37 54 76 5 3 1 4 4
1986–87 Philadelphia Flyers NHL 71 33 39 72 71 25 3 10 13 10
1987–88 Philadelphia Flyers NHL 69 22 35 57 42 7 3 2 5 7
1988–89 Philadelphia Flyers NHL 26 4 13 17 15
1988–89 St. Louis Blues NHL 52 17 36 53 27 10 6 6 12 4
1989–90 St. Louis Blues NHL 73 25 47 72 30 12 1 7 8 4
1990–91 Washington Capitals NHL 20 7 5 12 10
1990–91 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 32 14 14 28 4
1991–92 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 64 16 33 49 26
1992–93 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 70 12 23 35 24 20 2 1 3 6
1993–94 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 41 8 8 16 19 18 2 4 6 8
1994–95 Kalamazoo Wings IHL 2 0 0 0 0
1994–95 Dallas Stars NHL 30 6 5 11 19 3 1 0 1 0
1995–96 St. Louis Blues NHL 57 8 13 21 12 10 3 0 3 2
1996–97 St. Louis Blues NHL 35 4 9 13 12
1996–97 New Jersey Devils NHL 18 0 3 3 4 2 0 0 0 10
1997–98 Albany River Rats AHL 35 13 37 50 18
1997–98 New Jersey Devils NHL 5 0 3 3 0
1997–98 Vancouver Canucks NHL 25 5 12 17 2
1998–99 Vancouver Canucks NHL 41 6 8 14 16
2002–03 Cambridge Hornets OHASr 8 5 4 9 0
2003–04 Cambridge Hornets OHASr 18 7 17 24 16
2004–05 Cambridge Hornets OHASr 4 0 6 6 2
NHL totals 873 219 389 608 435 131 25 39 64 83

References

External links

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