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11-04-2004, 08:33 PM
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Keetz
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article from the Minneapolis paper. Heartbreaking last moments with With Wild teamate Darby Hendrickson.Last update: November 4, 2004 at 6:56 AM
Ex-Wild Zholtok is dead at 31
Chris Snow, Star Tribune
November 4, 2004 SERG1104


Sergei Zholtok, the popular, introspective center who played almost three full seasons with the Wild, died Wednesday during a game in Minsk, Belarus. He is believed to have died of heart failure.

Zholtok, 31, was playing for HC Riga 2000 when he left the bench late in a tie game and collapsed in or near the visiting locker room, according to NHL agent Neil Sheehy. Paramedics unsuccessfully attempted to revive Zholtok, Sheehy said.

In a convergence of time and place, another former Wild player, Darby Hendrickson, was playing with Riga because of the NHL lockout. He accompanied Zholtok to the locker room. And, according to Sheehy, Zholtok died in Hendrickson's arms.

Said Sheehy, who is Hendrickson's agent: "He told Darby, 'Don't leave.' "

Sheehy said Hendrickson also told him: "I have a deep faith. I was meant to be here."

It was only last season, on Oct. 21, 2003, that Zholtok fainted at Xcel Energy Center in the runway to the locker room. He was diagnosed with hyperventilation. Ten days later, additional testing at the Mayo Clinic revealed an irregular heartbeat.

Four days after that, which was exactly one year ago Wednesday, Zholtok was cleared by his cardiologist to return to the Wild.

Zholtok leaves behind two sons, Edgar, who is in his early teens, and Nikita, a toddler, and a wife, Anna. They were in Latvia at the time of Zholtok's death, Sheehy said. Sheehy said Zholtok's father lives in Minsk and was at the rink Wednesday.

Hendrickson, Sheehy said, planned to go immediately to see Zholtok's family once the team bus made the 10-hour bus trip back to Riga.

Zholtok, who played 10 seasons in the NHL, also leaves behind teammates who thoroughly enjoyed and respected him. Hendrickson's wife, Dana, contacted the Wild's unofficial captain, Andrew Brunette, on Wednesday night, and Brunette began calling all of his teammates.

"I'm sick to my stomach," said Brunette, who was Zholtok's road roommate the past three seasons. "He's a great family guy, very loving. If you ever had time to see him with his kids, he was just a great person, a fantastic person who didn't need to leave us all this early.

"We don't need to lose people like him."

Zholtok was so consumed by his family that it would sometimes affect his play. Last season, he was burned out by hockey and traveling but fulfilled a promise to take his family to Disney World during the All-Star break.

"I would have preferred to stay home," he said last February. "At the same time, I knew the family needed it."

Nikita basked in seeing Barney in person.

"He sings and he laughs," Zholtok said of Nikita following the trip. "It's given me a lot of positive energy."

It showed. He had five points in the next five games. Said coach Jacques Lemaire on Wednesday night: "If anything went wrong [with his family], his game would be affected. Because they counted so much."

They were one reason why Zholtok took such pains in going through extensive medical testing last October and November.

"It was a huge scare for him," Brunette said. "I know he was really kind of apprehensive about coming back. He wanted to make sure he did all the tests. He went to the best place, probably in the world, in the Mayo Clinic."

A year ago Wednesday, with Mayo's stamp of approval, Zholtok spoke about rejoining the team.

"The bottom line is my arrhythmia is fine," he said on Nov. 3, 2003. "It's cleared my mind."

Of the medical process, he said, "It's unbelievable. They do so much testing. It's all very interesting to know. The heart is a muscle, and all arteries create or don't create problems. If you are a healthy person, you should have good blood flow.

"And I'm happy to be one."

Zholtok, who was one of only four Latvian players in the NHL last season -- something about which he felt immense pride -- played 588 NHL games with six teams, compiling 258 points.

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