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Peter Zezel played 15 seasons in the NHL, including spells with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks.

Frank Gunn

He had the name, the cool hair and once scored 33 goals in his third season with the Philadelphia Flyers. But mostly, though, Peter Zezel was known for his sound defensive work and reliable play; the kind of player every NHL team wanted.

Zezel, who spent four seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, died Tuesday at 44. He suffered from a rare blood disorder known as hemolytic anemia and had slipped into critical condition eight years ago only to recover.

A Toronto-born junior hockey star, Zezel was drafted by the Flyers in 1983 and scored 61 points in his first 65 games in the NHL. He lasted five seasons in Philadelphia, the longest stay in an NHL career that saw him dress for six other teams before retiring as a member of the Vancouver Canucks in 1999.

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His career statistics through 15 seasons included 219 goals, 289 assists in 873 games. He was plus 39 defensively and also had a movie credit. With his matinee-idol features, Zezel landed a small role in the 1986 hockey movie Youngblood, which starred Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze.

Zezel left the NHL in 1999 to be with his family after his two-year-old niece died of leukemia. He eventually played senior hockey in Ontario and ran a hockey school while coaching in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. He worked for several charities during and after his NHL career ended.

"The hockey community has suffered a great loss today," said Glenn Healy, a former Maple Leaf and current director of player affairs for the NHLPA. "Peter was a friend and a great family man who was well liked by everyone he crossed paths with in our game."

Zezel's family issued a statement that said, "In his typical character of generosity, Peter has donated his organs through the Trillium Gift of Life Network."

Zezel was a popular member of the Maple Leafs when the team twice advanced to the Western Conference final. Coach Pat Burns was responsible for transforming Zezel into a defensive stalwart and that helped Toronto come within a series of playing for the Stanley Cup in 1993 and 1994.

Not surprisingly, Zezel could do more with his feet than just skate. He played for the Toronto Blizzard of the North American Soccer League and also the North York Rockets of the Canadian Soccer League.

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