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Zholtok's death has really hit home // Providence Journal/Evening Bulletin
Sergei Zholtok, who died Wednesday of an apparent heart ailment, was a well-liked member of the Providence Bruins during their inaugural season.
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PROVIDENCE - Sergei Zholtok gained the respect and admiration of teammates, coaches and fans throughout his professional hockey career. This made the news of his death Wednesday all the more difficult for current and former members of the Bruins' organization, where he began his career in 1992.
Joining many NHLers playing in Europe during the current lockout, Zholtok, 31, was competing for his hometown HK Riga 2000 club in Latvia when he collapsed and died of an apparent heart ailment.
It was his time in Providence, however, that was particularly memorable for those connected to the P-Bruins in the early 1990s.
During their inaugural season in the AHL, the P-Bruins used to conduct morning practices at PC's Schneider Arena. Jamie Huscroft and other veterans would play practical jokes on the rookies, including Zholtok, Eugene Pavlov and Jozef Stumpel.
The light-hearted hazing that is usually dished out to rookies at the hands of veterans is a tradition in most locker rooms. Zholtok took his ribbings and didn't let finding a little shaving cream in his skates and gloves bother him.
"He fit in right away," said former P-Bruins teammate and current Carolina Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette. "He adjusted well to the North American game and North American lifestyle and became a great addition to our team. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone to say a bad thing about him.
"It's shocking to his family. It's shocking to all of his former teammates. He was an ambassador for Latvia hockey."
Any time the two would meet up later on in their professional careers, Zholtok would greet Laviolette with a big hug and a smile.
"He made you feel warm," recalls the former P-Bruins captain and coach. "He was an exceptional person. When I heard the news my jaw dropped. My stomach ached and my heart bled."
During his three seasons with the P-Bruins, Zholtok played for former coach and current Bruins general manager Mike O'Connell. Zholtok remains the P-Bruins' all-time leader in goals (83), points (186) and is tied for third in assists with 103.
"The Bruins are very saddened by the death of Sergei," said O'Connell. "He made himself into a very good NHL player, but more importantly he was a terrific young man. He was a pleasure to be around. He loved the game and he loved his family. It's shocking and we are very saddened. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife and his two children."
Zholtok missed seven games last season for the Minnesota Wild and spent one night in the hospital for observation after leaving a game with dizziness and fatigue. Eventually he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, but was cleared to play exactly one year ago Wednesday.
His passing was felt around the hockey world yesterday.
"On behalf of NHLPA members," NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow said, "I want to convey our deepest sympathies to Sergei's family, especially his wife and two sons. Sergei was a well-liked member of our association and will be greatly missed."
The Bruins originally drafted the 6-foot, 185-pound center in the third round (55th overall) in the 1992 NHL entry draft. He went on to play in 588 games during his 11-year NHL career. During that stretch, he amassed 111 goals and 147 assists for 258 points.
After beginning his career in the Bruins' organization, Zholtok played two seasons for the Las Vegas Thunder in the IHL. While there, he was honored with the 1996 Ironman Award, which is given to the player who has played in every game and displayed outstanding offensive and defensive skills.
He signed with Ottawa and played for the Senators for two years, beginning with the 1996-97 season. He then joined the Montreal Canadiens, where he spent parts of three seasons. In December of 2000, he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for Chad Kilger, and one calendar year later he was traded to the Minnesota Wild for a conditional pick in the 2002 draft.
He remained with the Wild for three seasons, but last March he was acquired by the Nashville Predators, where he played only 11 games.
The hockey world lost a good one on Wednesday.
"He was a great teammate and a great person," said Laviolette. "You never expect this."
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Of Sergei Zholtok, left, former P-Bruins teammate Peter Laviolette said: "He fit in right away. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone to say a bad thing about him."
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