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Zarley Zalapski, who played for Canada at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, died on Tuesday at age 49. The cause of death was undisclosed.
The puck-moving defenceman from Edmonton, Alberta made headlines when he was drafted fourth overall in the 1986 NHL Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, Zalapski opted to put his international career first, playing for the Canadian national team under head coach Dave King for three seasons.
It was a big leap for a teenager coming out of Tier-II hockey with the AJHL’s Fort Saskatchewan Traders, but he made the best of it. His achievements included being named Best Defenceman at the 1987 Izvestia Tournament in Moscow, where Canada upset the favoured host Soviets, and adding three assists at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship that year as his nation came fourth in Vienna.
Canada again placed fourth when it hosted the Winter Games for the first time in 1988, with Zalapski notching a goal and three assists. He then joined Pittsburgh for the remainder of the 1987/88 season.
Zalapski cracked the NHL All-Rookie Team in 1988/89 with 45 points. However, he missed out on winning the Stanley Cup with the Mario Lemieux-era Penguins since he was traded on 4 March 1991 to the Hartford Whalers. The blockbuster deal also saw John Cullen and Jeff Parker going to Hartford in exchange for Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings.
In Hartford, Zalapski peaked as an NHL points producer. Known for his power play skills, he had a career-high 20 goals and 57 points in 1991-92, and then jumped to 65 points in 1992-93, making the NHL All-Star Game that season. He would also play for the Calgary Flames, Philadelphia Flyers, and Montreal Canadiens before ending his 12-year NHL career in 1999/2000 with 384 points in 637 games.
But there was more to come for the 186-cm, 102-kg veteran. After suiting up for several IHL teams, he took his talents to Europe, playing in Germany, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, and Austria. He became a Swiss citizen through marriage in 2006 and spent six seasons in the top-two Swiss leagues. Zalapski’s final stint in the Swiss National League B proved most rewarding, as he won championships with Lausanne HC in 2009 and 2010.
Tuesday’s news prompted an outpouring of sympathy around the hockey world. Calgary Flames president CEO Ken King said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened with the news of Zarley’s passing. We are proud that Zarley wore the Flames jersey; made Calgary his home following his playing career; represented our alumni executive; and we will always remember him as a member of the Flames family.”