Former NHL player Peter Zezel passed away at a Toronto hospital on Tuesday at the age of 44, after a long battle with a blood disorder.
Zezel spent the last 10 years being treated for haemolytic anaemia, a rare disorder in which red blood cells are destroyed faster than the body can replace them.
His family released the following statement:
"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. 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 Toronto native played 15 seasons in the National Hockey League with the Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals, Toronto Maple Leafs, Dallas Stars, New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks.
"The hockey community has suffered a great loss today," said NHLPA Director of Player Affairs Glenn Healy in a statement. "Peter was a friend and a great family man who was well liked by everyone he crossed paths with in our game. Our thoughts are with Peter's family and many friends during this difficult time."
With 873 games played in his NHL career, he's best remembered for his tenure in Toronto. He scored 50 goals and 128 points in four seasons with the Maple Leafs and helped guide the club to back-to-back appearances in the conference finals in 1993 and 1994.
"On behalf of the Maple Leafs, I want to convey our deepest sympathies to Peter's family, friends and former teammates," said Maple Leafs President and General Manager Brian Burke in a statement. "He was the consummate professional and he always carried himself with great class as a human being. Peter will be greatly missed."
Hockey was not the only sport where Zezel excelled. He also played with the Toronto Blizzard of the North American Soccer League and the North York Rockets of the Canadian Soccer League.
Zezel retired from his NHL playing career after the 1998-99 season and ran hockey camps in his hometown for the last 11 years.
He was also a popular guest on TSN's Off The Record with Michael Landsberg, making 19 appearances on the guest panel and discussing all the latest issues in hockey. His most recent appearance on the show was May 7.
"Peter was the ultimate caring friend and teammate," said former Maple Leaf Mark Osborne in a statement. "He was so dedicated to his family and friends and he would always freely give of his time and energies to help someone else. He was truly a passionate and loyal friend both on and off the ice. Our hockey family is devastated."
Zezel's family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Peter Zezel's name to the James Birrell Fund at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. The cheques should be made payable to "The James Fund" and can be mailed to:
The James Fund
625 Whitaker Street #4