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ноября 2004 года.
Former Wild teammates Darby Hendrickson and Sergei Zholtok had a tragic reunion in Latvia // Minneapolis Star Tribune
Day in, day out, no one displayed such enthusiasm in the Wild dressing room as Darby Hendrickson. Yet that appearance was occasionally facade. On those days, when the man dubbed The Mayor by teammates for his local roots and omnipresent enthusiasm would be down on himself, he'd look to Sergei Zholtok.
Zholtok would offer this advice: "Drink tea. Slow down."
To Hendrickson it sounded antiquated, some remedy still embraced in old Europe that worked for Zholtok and his fellow Latvians but no one else. "I'd say, 'C'mon Sergei,' " Hendrickson recalled. "Now, he's got me drinking tea."
As he spoke Hendrickson sat in the living room of his Inver Grove Heights home. He lost Zholtok a week ago Wednesday in a hockey rink in Minsk, Belarus. Lying between the ice and the locker room, the guy known among Minnesota teammates as the Latvian Lover for his caring ways died of the ultimate irony. Heart failure.
Hendrickson was there as Zholtok died, calling his name. By Monday, he was helping hold up a casket, walking into an ancient church in what felt like an ancient world.
Tuesday he was home in Minnesota, and by Wednesday he felt well enough to talk about the most devastating and uniquely special experience of his life.
But before he could speak he needed tea. He brewed some Latvian tea in a pot provided by the president of the Latvian team in Riga. He wore a hat that read: LATVIJA CCM Hockey. He poured the tea into a mug labeled RIGA and spoke of last Wednesday.
"I walked to the game with Sergei," recalled Hendrickson, who was playing for Riga (Latvia) during the NHL lockout. "And I didn't leave with Sergei."
Riga trailed with about eight minutes to go with Hendrickson and Zholtok on the ice together.
"And he went off early," Hendrickson said. "He was on the bench real mellow. I went over and asked if he was OK.
"He just gave me this ..."
Hendrickson, recreating Zholtok's response, tilted his head a bit and sat still, basically expressionless.
"It was not emotional, but there was no sense he was struggling to breathe," Hendrickson recalled. "Real subdued. We finished the game. They brought him to the locker room. But he didn't make it."
Zholtok fell, hyperventilating. His father, who was at the game, joined Hendrickson and paramedics at Zholtok's side.
Though Zholtok "was struggling to breathe," Hendrickson said he wasn't panicked yet. "I'd been through this with Sergei before."
It was a year ago, Oct. 21, 2003, that Zholtok hyperventilated in the Wild dressing room during a game in St. Paul. Seeing this same situation playing out in Minsk, Hendrickson ran to the team bus to fetch the cell phone number for Wild medical director Sheldon Burns. Hendrickson dialed Burns.
But the phone cut out for about five minutes. Paramedics attempted to shock Zholtok's heart back into the proper rhythm, Hendrickson said. This failed. They lost his pulse. They began doing CPR.
Hendrickson eventually was able to get back on the phone to Burns in Minnesota. But there was little they could do.
"They're Belorussians," Hendrickson said. "They didn't understand me.
"At this point they don't have a pulse. You're praying, and you're hoping. This basically went on for 15 minutes. They got a little pulse back."
Burns told Hendrickson to let Zholtok know he was there.
"He's struggling," Hendrickson recalled. "I'm yelling, 'I'm here Zho.' How much he hears I don't know."
His pulse stopped, again.
"They lost him," Hendrickson said. "It's real right away. He's passed and you're there, holding his hand. But there's no other place I'd want to be than with him. I feel a sense of thankfulness, a peace that I knew him. He touched me. And I was with him in the end."
Hendrickson later boarded the bus for the 10-hour ride home to Riga. No one sat next to him. The seat was occupied by Zholtok's suitcase.
The team drove through the night, leaving Minsk about 2 a.m. and arriving in Riga about noon. Hendrickson didn't sleep much. He thought of how he was meant to be in this place at this time and about all of the fun that preceded such tragedy.
Hendrickson had arrived in Riga in early October, and it had been an experience.
He and Zholtok had done their laundry together in the shower following games. That's just the way it is there. "He'd look at me and laugh," Hendrickson recalled.
They'd gone to a Russian sauna. While there, men banged their backs with leaves while they wore goofy hats and - what else? - drank tea.
Zholtok had bought Hendrickson a camera and a journal. At night he'd take notes, asking Zholtok "OK, how do I spell this town?"
Now, he was gone.
Come Monday, the viewing was held in City Hall Square at The Blackheads House, a stunning meeting house built in 1334. Zholtok's body was then taken to a church with Hendrickson gripping a handle on the casket. Later, at the gravesite, amid rolling hills populated with people, in the shadow of an historic church, family and close friends said goodbye with the casket open. Hendrickson stood with them.
"I know I will go back to Riga to honor him, maybe bring my son there," Hendrickson said. "I just picture Sergei picking me up today to go to practice. I just want to see the guy."
He clutched his RIGA mug.
"He was always the guy to pump someone up, on the Wild or as a friend," Hendrickson added. "He was the encourager. He was the guy who said it was all good.
"Now, in a difficult time, you'd need Sergei. You'd want Sergei. I know what Sergei would say. 'Remember the good times. It's all good.'
"It wasn't good when I was with him. It was great."
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