The Canuck I Remember…Pavol Demitra

Credit -Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

The fifth in a special summer series, author Patrick Johnston will write whatever comes to mind about a random Canucks hero. What is a hero? Patrick’s criteria is super secret, but maybe, just maybe, if you pay close attention, you’ll figure it out.

The news spread like wildfire…a plane had crashed…some of the members of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl may have been on board…all of the team was on board…wait a second, who plays for Yaroslavl…oh my goodness…

Yesterday morning was an odd one to witness. For the first time in many, many years, a major sports team had been wiped out in one fell swoop. Not because the players were bad, not because the owner was angry, not because there building collapsed, no this was far worse, this was unforseen: the team was wiped out simply because their plane fell from the sky. Investigations will begin, accusations will fly, but the fact will remain a team full of fans’ heroes is gone, now extant only in memory. They are now like the Busby Babes, the team that could have been, should have been, would have been. Others will take their place, but how can they? The few players who didn’t take the flight will carry with them the memory of the players who were there just days before, and those that are brought in to replace will try to know who it was who sat in their locker, what they had done in their life, in their career. How had the lost ones been so successful…

Credit The Daily Mail/Getty Images


It took time to come to grips with the reaction of people – this wasn’t the only horrible story circulating on twitter. Though stories of slaughter had been circulating for weeks, Wednesday morning saw a new story emerge; graphic videos of the slaughter of civilians by the Syrian army had emerged. Outrage was everywhere. In a cluttered twitter stream, half the tweets would express shock at the death of hockey players, half would express horror at the reckless, callous, heinous loss of life in Syria. Perspective was a hard thing to maintain: how could people feel so much emotion about the unfortunate, unexpected deaths of well-paid athletes, and yet seemingly not notice the massacre of people who were struggling for the right to live free from persecution? What is this world that we live in? Have we become desensitized to the suffering of the poor, who are seemingly doomed to live a life beset with horror; our emotions only spilling out when something we can’t rationalize away crops up? Anger swelled up, people need to get some perspective, there are so many horrors committed every day that should be shocking, we should turn our attentions to this as well; we should be fighting harder to make this a just world.


Time passed. A day went by. The reality that names I knew – Demitra, McCrimmon, Koroleve, Karpotsev, Skrastins – would not be heard from again. Their talents, which were familar, were lost forever. Other names, unknown names, young and old, with dreams and skills and followers of their own. Gone. They desereved a moment in our hearts. At least we could speak their names. Just as deaths in Syria were a tragedy, deaths in Russia were too. Grief is real, no matter the scale, no matter the reason, no matter the reaction.


Pavol Demitra came to Vancouver with expectation. It wasn’t a burden, it was understood he was moving up in years, but he was a talent, a scorer, a player who would be reliable. He wasn’t expected to single handedly bring home the cup, but he was a good addition to a good team that was pushing towards the ultimate dream. He arrived as Markus Naslund exited, not a replacement, really just a change.

For many, Demo was a disappointment. He was paid a lot of money. Guys paid a lot of money are expected to score. He wasn’t terrible, but he didn’t blow your socks off either. He didn’t suit the perceptions of the casual hockey fan. Casual fans don’t care that stars also do little things. Casual fans care that stars score night in, night out, that they rush with abandon from one end of the ice to the other, that they crush the other team, that they do the impossible. Pavol was really, really good at hockey. He could stick handle with the best of them, he had a great shot, he could control his space like an elite player should, he was very dependable on the penalty kill. The curse of guys with the all-around game is they don’t spend all their time trying to score. It’s a high risk game; if you suddenly stop scoring, people call you lazy. No one called Demo lazy, he’s learned too well in Minnesota that a player who was slowing down needed to make sure his decisions wouldn’t lead to his being beat defensively fifteen seconds later. Bad decisions meant the end of the bench. That’s a hard lesson to unlearn. We forget what brought us success before. If we do remember, we want to re-train ourselves to do that, but the body’s older, it’s forgotten how to move quite like that, it’s learned new, almost as effective ways of doing things.

What should be remembered about Pavol Demitra? He was a good man. He didn’t complain. He used his powers for good. He wanted to win. He won the Lady Byng in 2000. He played the game the right way. He didn’t dive. He didn’t take cheap shots. When his country called, he was there. He played beautifully in the Olympics. He was a top 5 scorer in the KHL. He was a very good player for two very good Vancouver Canucks teams. He loved to play hockey the way we all do.


Pucks into an empty net…pucks into an empty net…these boys loved the game…

(video links courtesy KHL via PuckDaddy)