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ноября 2005 года.
Honoring Zholtok's memory, one year after his death - St. Paul Pioneer Press
BY BRIAN MURPHY
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Anna Zholtok gains strength from her faith and family each day, but she has difficulty accepting her husband's fate a year after he died playing the sport he loved.
Sergei Zholtok was a hockey player, loyal teammate, Latvian icon, philanthropist and father of two sons when heart failure killed him Nov. 3, 2004, one month shy of his 32nd birthday.
The medical professionals have explained the "how," leaving Zholtok's survivors and friends on two continents to cope with the "why."
"When old people die, you can accept it," Anna Zholtok said. "But when a young guy, who's full of energy, full of muscle, with a happy face all the time - you just can't believe that.
"It's like he went on a road trip and never came back."
Anna Zholtok and sons, Edgar, 16, and Nikita, 5, plan to be at the Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night when the Wild celebrate her husband's life before their game against the Nashville Predators.
Edgar is scheduled to drop the ceremonial puck after a video tribute to his father, who played two-plus seasons for the Wild from 2001-04 during a 10-year NHL career.
Anna Zholtok is nervous, apprehensive and excited all at once about their returning to the arena for the first time since the Wild traded Zholtok to Nashville in March 2004.
"It's going to be so hard to step into that building and not see (Sergei) over there," she said. "But I truly appreciate everything the Minnesota Wild are doing to share Sergei's career with the fans and to show how much he was loved here in Minnesota."
It promises to be an emotional night in honor of "Zho," whose passion for the game and his teammates made him one of the most popular players in the Wild's brief history.
A FIERCE COMPETITOR
His stylish black locks, chiseled European features and trademark smile masked a fierce competitor whose spirit galvanized a dressing room of prospects and journeymen who accomplished what no NHL team ever had done.
Zholtok cherished the uniqueness of the 2002-03 team that unexpectedly made the playoffs and made history by twice rallying from 3-1 series deficits to reach the Stanley Cup semifinals.
After he was traded, Zholtok still talked about the bond of that overachieving crew, which became the sports darlings of the Twin Cities and Minnesota during a 36-day roller-coaster ride that spring.
In separate interviews, former teammates Dwayne Roloson, Darby Hendrickson and Andrew Brunette recounted a spontaneous fishing trip the foursome took to Hendrickson's cabin near Duluth after the lockout began in September 2004.
Hendrickson and Zholtok already had been traded from Minnesota and were preparing to play in Latvia during the lockout. Roloson was about to sign in Finland. Brunette did not know he had played his last game for the Wild, who allowed him to sign with Colorado before this season.
When the walleyes stopped biting, they played two-on-two basketball before retiring to a cabin to crack some beers and reminisce into the night.
They all were in their early to mid-30s, hardly washed up in their careers. Zholtok, though, was convinced he never again would experience that much joy playing for one team.
"I thought it was kind of weird because he was only a year or two older than I am, and I said, `Yeah, Zho, we'll find it somewhere else; we'll have a chance to win the Stanley Cup somewhere else,' " Brunette recalled. "He just thought it was the most fun he ever had, and we'll never have that same feel with a team again.
"That's something that sticks with me and will always stick with me when I think of Zho because that was one of the last conversations I had with him."
HINTS OF A PROBLEM
The Wild acquired Zholtok from Edmonton in June 2001 after he spent eight years cycling through the Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa and Boston, which drafted him in the third round in 1992.
He scored 48 goals among 110 points in 210 games with Minnesota, adding two goals and 13 points in the 2003 playoffs. It was Zholtok who lugged the puck up ice and set up Brunette for his memorable Game 7 overtime goal that vanquished Patrick Roy and the Avalanche from the first round.
But during a game in October 2003, an exhausted Zholtok hyperventilated on the Wild bench for the second time in less than a year. He missed seven games while undergoing tests at the Mayo Clinic that diagnosed him with heart arrhythmia.
Zholtok's heart was healthy, and his family had no known history of cardiac problems. After passing several stress tests, Zholtok and his doctors were convinced his condition was not life threatening, and he resumed playing.
"A lot of people live with an irregular heartbeat. But as a professional athlete with a healthy heart, there should not be any problems," Zholtok said in a Nov. 3, 2003, interview, exactly one year before he died.
The episode frightened Anna Zholtok.
"I told him he should stop playing hockey, but that's like telling a child you can't eat candy anymore. For Sergei, hockey was his life. He was in love with hockey since he was 4 years old. The doctors told him he was OK to go. If they said there was something wrong with him, he would never have played again because he had a family to take care of and didn't want to take a chance.
"I believed him."
OFF TO EUROPE
As the lockout raged in North America, hundreds of NHL players took jobs in Europe. For Zholtok, it was a chance to play in his hometown of Riga, Latvia. He persuaded Hendrickson to join him on the Riga2000 team, and he brought Anna and kids to live in their offseason house overlooking the Baltic Sea.
"He was so happy to play there. He was like a king over there," Anna Zholtok said.
To understand Zholtok's celebrity in Latvia, population 2.3 million, one must consider there only are three Latvians in the NHL. Countrymen consider Zholtok, former Carolina goalie Arturs Irbe and Anaheim defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh pioneers. The high school Zholtok attended bears his name.
Zholtok represented Latvia at the 1994, 2002 and '04 world championships. He and Irbe also were instrumental in raising awareness and money for abused women and children in their country.
"I can't remember a single time when he would skip a tournament if he wasn't playing in the playoffs or busy with NHL games," Irbe said. "That shows what kind of commitment he had."
One month into his tenure with Riga, Zholtok and Hendrickson were on the bench during the third period of a game in Minsk, Belarus. Zholtok removed himself from the game, complaining about shortness of breath.
He left for the dressing room but collapsed in the corridor. Emergency efforts failed to revive Zholtok, who died in Hendrickson's arms. An autopsy determined heart failure as the cause of death.
Several Wild players, including Roloson, Hendrickson and Alexandre Daigle, attended Zholtok's funeral in Riga, as did general manager Doug Risebrough and team physician Dr. Sheldon Burns.
The throng of mourners who lined the streets of the procession eight-deep struck Roloson.
"It was like the parting of the seas for about a mile," he said.
Hendrickson, who returned to Minnesota after Zholtok's death, turned down several post-lockout offers from teams unwilling to guarantee his NHL services and is back in Europe, skating for the Salzburg Red Bulls in Austria.
Not a day passes without Hendrickson recalling the friend who loved his country, his family and his teammates. Like Zholtok, Hendrickson moved his wife and three children overseas with him.
"He was such an optimistic guy with so much passion for life, he changed the way you looked at life," Hendrickson said. "I miss him. I wish I could talk to him about being in Europe because I know how excited he would be. What a guy."
This month, Anna, Edgar and Nikita Zholtok returned to the gravesite in Riga to mark the one-year anniversary of Zholtok's death. These are the hardest days, with Sergei's Dec. 2 birthday and the holidays approaching. The healing continues.
Anna met Sergei when he was playing a tournament in her hometown of Glazov, Russia. They married in 1990, and she followed him on the NHL tour until they settled in Eagan four years ago.
She has chosen to raise their sons in Minnesota. Nikita is in kindergarten. Edgar is a sophomore at the Academy of Holy Angels. Edgar plays right wing, like his father, and his final hockey tryout is Saturday, seven hours before he takes the ice at Xcel in the name of his father.
"It's going to be hard for me, but I think it's going to be good for him," Anna said. "He says, `Mom, I can take care of myself.' He's a really good kid.
"He reminds me of Sergei a lot, the way he plays, the way he skates. It's just amazing."
11 ноября. Ex-Wild teammate returns home, recalls
Zholtok's death in Belarus // St. Paul Pioneer Press
11 ноября. Former Wild teammates Darby Hendrickson
and Sergei Zholtok had a tragic reunion in Latvia // Minneapolis Star
5 ноября. Zholtok's death has really hit home
// Providence Journal/Evening Bulletin
5 ноября. Вожак Латвии // "Спорт-Экспресс"
5 ноября. Сергей Жолток - смерть за 5 минут до конца
матча // "Спорт-Экспресс"
11 ноября. Ex-Wild teammate returns home, recalls Zholtok's death in Belarus // St. Paul Pioneer Press
11 ноября. Former Wild teammates Darby Hendrickson and Sergei Zholtok had a tragic reunion in Latvia // Minneapolis Star Tribune
5 ноября. Zholtok's death has really hit home // Providence Journal/Evening Bulletin
5 ноября. Вожак Латвии // "Спорт-Экспресс"
5 ноября. Сергей Жолток - смерть за 5 минут до конца матча // "Спорт-Экспресс"