Remembering Peter Zezel: Former Flyer and humanitarian

Peter Zezel. Photo: Graig Abel/Getty Images)
Peter Zezel. Photo: Graig Abel/Getty Images) /

Peter Zezel would have turned 58 years old Saturday.

The former Flyers center probably would have enjoyed watching hockey playoffs on television, working out and doing something kind for those in need. Zezel was full of life, fun to be around, a friend to all.

That’s how Zezel lived his life. I imagine this weekend would have been no different.

Shocking death

Zezel died of a rare blood disorder on May 26, 2009. He was a young man, only 44 years old. Toronto media reported that Zezel had hemolytic anemia for 10 years before his passing. That’s when red blood cells are destroyed faster than the body can replace them.

Zezel’s death hit Flyers fans hard. He was a hugely popular player on and off the ice — fueled by his intense play and movie star looks. No Flyer of his era was more popular.

Speaking of Hollywood, in 1986, Zezel was cast for a minor role in “Youngblood” a hockey-themed movie starring Rob Lowe.

Zezel was drafted in the second round. He made the big club in 1984-85 as a 19-year-old, when he set a rookie assist record with 45. He also scored 15 goals as the Flyers advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. He was effective on the power play and excelled at faceoffs.

Zezel was part of the second wave of excellent Flyers teams. Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Reggie Leach and Bernie Parent all retired by 1984-85, replaced by Ron Sutter, Rich Sutter, Rick Tocchet, Murray Craven and Zezel — none older than 21.

Under coach Mike Keenan and led by in-their-prime players such as Tim Kerr, Brian Propp, Dave Poulin, Mark Howe, Brad McCrimmon and Pelle Lindbergh, these Flyers made two Cup finals in three years and established themselves as some of the best teams in NHL history that never won a Cup.

On Twitter over the weekend, Zezel’s cousin posted this:


Today on April 22 my late cousin Peter #Zezel would have turned 58 years old. Please do a random act of kindness today to honor his life & legacy. It would mean  so much to me & my family. Our hearts hurt on this day. He mattered so much to us. Still does. #LeafsForever

Zezel only played 4-plus seasons with the Flyers but enjoyed a 15-year NHL career. He also played for the Capitals, Maple Leafs, Stars and Blues. He played 873 games and scored 219 goals and had 389 assists (608 points).

After he retired, he lived in his native Toronto. Zezel visited children’s hospitals and kept in touch with ill children, according to the Flyers’ website. He set up donations of sports equipment for children whose families were needy.

Turk Evers (@EversTurk), former Flyers equipment manager, tweeted this about Zezel on Saturday:

Happy heavenly birthday to one of the greatest guys I’ve ever known and one of my best friends. Best roommate I ever had for five years. Lots of great memories and stories, great vacations, your sadly missed my friend.

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About playing for the Flyers, Zezel told author Stan Fischler, for his book Greatest Players and Moments of the Philadelphia Flyers:

“Getting drafted by the Flyers was the biggest thrill of my life. Bobby Clarke had been my idol when I was younger and now I was in Philly alongside him.”