In the wake of Wednesday’s Russian plane disaster that decimated the whole Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team, killing 43 people including Slovak team captain Pavol Demitra (1974-2011), rivers of tears have been flowing throughout Slovakia.
Most foreigners in Slovakia probably don’t realise just how much an idol Pavol Demitra was in his lifetime, but the tributes being made to the man in memorium make it pretty clear.
Pavol’s body was finally returned to Slovakia yesterday afternoon, brought from Russia by a plane of the Ministry of Interior to Bratislava, before being taken by helicopter to the city of Trencin, where his bereaved wife and relatives were waiting to collect his coffin.
Since Pavol’s death was announced, the City of Trencin has decided to rename its hockey stadium after him, and a request has been filed also to rename the local primary school that Pavol attended in his hometown of Dubnica.
The City of Bratislava looks set to name the small square at the new Ondrej Nepela Arena after him also. It was here that Pavol gave his final farewell to his career in the national team, at the Ice-Hockey World Championships in May. His tearful and emotionally-charged farewell as captain of the national team “has taken on a whole new depth of meaning”, said fellow player and long-term friend, Miroslav Satan.
People all over the country are spontaneously setting up shrines in his name at hockey stadiums everywhere, and the Slovak ice-hockey association SZLH has retired Demitra’s legendary jersey number 38 for all-time in his honour. People around the country are wearing these jerseys in his memory, and the SZLH will be playing all its friendly matches from now until the next World Championships in jerseys bearing also a symbolic number 38 on them.
A minute’s silence in memory of Pavol Demitra was observed in parliament, by the Slovak soldiers based in Afghanistan and even by football teams in Slovakia before they kicked off at the weekend. Naturally, the same show of respect was given before the weekend’s hockey league matches.
Pavol Demitra was just 36 years old when he was killed, leaving behind his wife Maria and their two children Lucas and Zara. Pavol’s illustrious club career was played with Dukla Trencin, Ottowa Senators, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesotta Wild, Vancouver Canucks and one final season with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. With the Slovak national team he played in six world championships (winning one) and three Olympic games.
The official farewell to Pavol Demitra will take place this Thursday at the ice-hockey stadium in Trencin, where visitors will be able to pay their respects to his coffin between 10 am and 2 pm.