Pavol Demitra's impact on Slovakian hockey can't be overstated. He was a mainstay on its national teams, appearing in the Winter Olympics three times, to go along with a memorable NHL career from 1993-2010. He was a rock star.
Demitra died in the September 2011 plane crash that claimed the lives of 43 people, the majority of whom played for, or coached, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL. His memory was kept alive with tributes from fans around the world, and in tributes from his friends and countrymen during the season.
He was also the inspiration for Slovakia's underdog run to the silver medal at the 2012 IIHF world championships. From Chris Johnston at the Canadian Press:
The team is honouring his memory in different ways at this event — some wear T-shirts with his picture on it under their equipment while forward Tomas Kopecky dons a ball cap for post-game interviews that carries Demitra's No. 38 on the front and the words "always remember" on the back. They felt his presence during an upset win over Canada in the quarter-finals and Saturday's win over the rival Czechs.
"When you look at the game against Canada, after we scored the third goal, I just looked up and said 'Thanks God,"' said Florida Panthers forward Tomas Kopecky. "He's with us, it's unbelievable. It's just a great feeling."
Slovakia honored Demitra's memory in the medal ceremony following its loss to Russia, as Zdeno Chara wore Demitra's national team jersey in accepting a player of the game award.
After the team returned home, Kopecky made a pilgrimage. He brought the silver medal to Demitra's grave, honoring the man who inspired their effort.