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Zholtok death shakes hockey world

RIGA, Latvia -- Latvian and NHL hockey players and fans were saddened yesterday after national star Sergei Zholtok died while playing in Belarus.

Zholtok, who played for the Bruins between 1992-94, left the game between Riga 2000, the club he was playing for during the NHL lockout, and Dinamo Minsk about five minutes before it ended Wednesday night. He went back to the locker room where he collapsed and died, Riga 2000 president Viesturs Kozioles told the Associated Press.

Zholtok, who was known to have an irregular heartbeat, was 31. An autopsy was scheduled for later yesterday.

Bruins general manager Mike O'Connell coached Zholtok on the organization's American Hockey League affiliate in Providence.

"The Bruins are very saddened by the death of Sergei," said O'Connell. "He made himself into a very good NHL player, but more importantly, he was a terrific young man. He was a pleasure to be around. He loved the game, and he loved his family. It's shocking, and we are very saddened. Our thoughts and prayers go to his wife and his two children."

Zholtok remains Providence's all-time leader in goals (83) and points (186). He had two goals and two assists in 25 games with the Boston Bruins.

Zholtok missed games twice last year while playing with the Minnesota Wild, and suffered from dizziness and fatigue.

After leaving a game in January 2003, he was kept in a hospital overnight for observation. He was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia. After missing seven games, he was cleared to return to the lineup.

Zholtok scored 111 goals and had 147 assists during his 12-year NHL career. He had a career-best 26 goals for the Canadiens in 1999-2000.

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