Former NHL player Peter Zezel dies

Former Toronto Maple Leaf Peter Zezel died on Tuesday after a more than 10-year battle with a rare blood disorder. He was 44.

Former Toronto Maple Leaf Peter Zezel died on Tuesday after a more than 10-year battle with a rare blood disorder. He was 44.

A Toronto native, Zezel played 16 years in the NHL and was one of the most popular Maple Leafs when the team enjoyed a resurgence during the early 1990s. 

He retired from the NHL in 1999, but for the past 11 years he ran the Peter Zezel Hockey and Sports Camp, and also coached minor hockey with the Don Mills Flyers. In addition, he was a frequent guest on sports talk shows.

Zezel scored 219 goals and added 389 assists in 873 games over a 16-year career. He played for Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington, Toronto, Dallas, New Jersey and Vancouver.

In the summer of 2001, Zezel was diagnosed with hemolytic anemia, a rare disorder in which red blood cells are destroyed faster than the body can replace them.

He had battled the illness in part with the drug prednisone, which caused a significant weight gain.

Zezel, 44, was admitted to hospital last week for surgery, but despite chemotherapy and the removal of his spleen, his situation worsened.

The Zezel family released a statement thanking friends and supporters, and indicating that he had donated organs upon his death.

"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," the statement read. 

Glenn Healy, NHLPA director of player affairs, issued a statement on behalf of the players' union.

"The hockey community has suffered a great loss today," said Healy. "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."

In the NHL Zezel was known as an accomplished faceoff man with a tenacious style.

"He was a guy who was one of the first one the ice at practice and one of the last to leave and he worked incessantly not only on faceoffs, but one-timers — he had a great one-timer," said Hockey Night in Canada Radio host Jeff Marek.

He came close, but never won a Stanley Cup.

Twice with the Toronto Maple leafs Zezel cracked the conference final, and he also made two trips to the Stanley Cup final with the Philadelphia Flyers.

It was the Flyers who drafted the high-scoring junior 41st overall in 1983, straight out of the Toronto Marlies Jr. A hockey club.

Gino Ferrin played soccer with Zezel and was with him the night he was drafted.

Asking what comes to mind when he thinks of Zezel, Ferrin told CBCSports.ca: "Humility and the wonderful work ethic to achieve his dreams and his goal. Those were the two [things] that jump to mind."

Zezel made a quick impression in the NHL, setting a Flyers rookie record with 46 assists to help his team reach the Stanley Cup final his first year in the league. He enjoyed four seasons with 50-plus points in Philadelphia, and put up a career-high 72 points for the Flyers in 1986-87, a total he later tied with the St. Louis Blues.