Zezel in 1992
April 22, 1965|
Scarborough, ON, CAN
|Died||May 26, 2009
Toronto, ON, CAN
|Height||5 ft 11 in (180 cm)|
|Weight||200 lb (91 kg; 14 st 4 lb)|
|Played for||Philadelphia Flyers
St. Louis Blues
Toronto Maple Leafs
New Jersey Devils
|NHL Draft||41st overall, 1983
Peter Zezel[a] (April 22, 1965 – May 26, 2009) was a Canadian professional ice hockey centre who spent 15 seasons in the National Hockey League from 1984 to 1999. He was born and raised in Scarborough, Ontario.
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 a 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 Finals, where they were beaten 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 led 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 1994.
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. Keenan, who was now coaching in Vancouver at the time, had Zezel acquired by the Canucks in February 1998. There, Zezel was given a chance to contribute offensively alongside star winger Alexander Mogilny, and he responded with 17 points in 25 games, including a goal on his first shift as a Canuck.
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 (NHL) team so he could be closer to his family. 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. Burke had the Canucks buy out the remainder of Zezel's contract ($110,000) and made a charitable donation in the same amount, to an organization the Canucks supported for terminally ill children.
He finished his career playing 873 games, scoring 219 goals and 389 assists, with a total of 608 points.
Zezel was an impressive soccer player in his youth. Although eventually choosing to concentrate on hockey, 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, and appeared as striker in three exhibition games for them in 1982. He never appeared in an official NASL game. During the summer of 1991 he played for the North York Rockets of the Canadian Soccer League.
In May 2010, the Soccer Hall of Fame & Museum Board of Governors selected Zezel as the first recipient of the Brian Budd Award. Peter's father (Peter Sr.) was an accomplished soccer player for the Serbian White Eagles FC. Peter played his youth soccer for Wexford Soccer Club.
The skills he honed during his years on the pitch helped him on the ice. His soccer background made him a very strong player along the boards, and one of the best face-off men in the NHL. Zezel was a member of the Canadian national under-20 team at the 1982 CONCACAF U-20 Tournament.
Retirement and death
In October 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". Zezel underwent chemotherapy and had his spleen removed as part of his treatment.
Shortly after his splenectomy, Zezel began complaining of serious headaches. Roughly 12 hours later, he (once again) underwent surgery, 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. Because Zezel wanted to donate his organs, his family made the decision to remove him from life support that the organs might be preserved. Zezel died on May 26, 2009, with the service taking place at the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Mississauga. Zezel never married and had no children.
|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||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|
|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||—||—||—||—||—|
- "Peter Zezel Laid To Rest". CityNews.ca. 29 May 2009. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
- Simmons, Steve (2 April 1999). "The hardest hit of all". Toronto Sun. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
- Teaford, Elliott (25 March 1999). "Zezel's Refusal to Report Voids Deal". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
- "Toronto Mls Fc: Sunday Morning Roundup + Trivia Answers". Torontomls.blogspot.com. 2007-02-18. Retrieved 2012-07-21.
- Hunter, Paul (26 May 2009). "Former Leaf favourite Peter Zezel dies". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
- OSA (2010-05-28). "The Late Peter Zezel to Receive First-Ever Brian Budd Award". Retrieved 2012-02-14.
- "CANOE - SLAM! Sports - NHL - Zezel loses battle with blood disorder". Slam.canoe.ca. 2009-05-26. Retrieved 2012-07-21.
- Funston, Mike (May 29, 2009). "Peter Zezel remembered as 'special human being'". The Star.
-  Archived May 28, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
- Hornby, Lance (11 July 2014). "Scarborough street named after Peter Zezel". Toronto Sun. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Peter Zezel.|
- Career statistics and player information from NHL.com, or Hockey-Reference.com, or Legends of Hockey, or The Internet Hockey Database
- Profile at hockeydraftcentral.com
- Peter Zezel at the Internet Movie Database
- Hunter, Paul. "Former Leaf favourite Peter Zezel dies," Toronto Star, Tuesday, May 26, 2009.
- McKee, Don. "Former Flyer Peter Zezel dies at 44," The Philadelphia Inquirer, Wednesday, May 27, 2009.