The lifespan of an athlete in any sport, in any market, can be fleeting. Some may only see a few brief moments of playing time before they are shipped off to another city. Others may become the darlings of their local fanbase, plying their trade for many years to showers of abundant cheers. Many fall somewhere in the middle, captivating spectators with their skills, but their time eventually runs out.
In the case of Marek Svatos, time ran out sooner than anyone expected.
The Avalanche’s seventh-round pick in the 2001 (244th overall) NHL Entry Draft made his debut on October 10, 2003 playing the first two games as well as the last two games of the 2003-2004 season, scoring his first NHL goal on April 02, 2004. It wasn’t until after the lockout that wiped out the 2004-2005 NHL season did Svatos become a mainstay on the Avalanche roster.
Avalanche fans felt they had a special talent on their hands with Svatos. He had a career-high four-point night, during the Avalanche’s 2005-2006 home opener, notching his first career hat trick (3G/1A/4PTS, stats courtesy of avalanchedb.com). “There’s no better feeling in the world,” Svatos told the Associated Press (via ESPN.com) after the game. Indeed, very few things could possibly rival hearing the roar of the hometown crowd cheering, their hats littering the ice as you celebrate with your teammates.
While the mainstream hockey headlines were dominated by the rookie campaigns of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin during the 2005-2006 season, Svatos’ performance also garnered honorable mentions. Svatos’ rookie year would be his most prolific, scoring a career high 32 goals and 18 assists for a total of 50 points (stats courtesy of avalanchedb.com). A shoulder injury ended his season, silencing any hopes Avalanche fans may have had for Svatos being involved in the Calder trophy conversation.
Svatos played an additional four seasons with the Avalanche, but injuries hampered his production and limited his playing time. While he wasn’t the dynamic force he had been in his rookie year, he posted a respectable 26 goals (second behind Milan Hejduk’s 29, courtesy of avalanchedb.com) in 2007-2008. The 2009-2010 season marked his final season in an Avalanche sweater. Short stints with the Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators marked the end of Svatos’ NHL career, but Svatos made Colorado his home.
It was Colorado that drafted him in 2001, it was Colorado that welcomed him in 2003 him, and it was Colorado that adopted him in 2005.
On November 05, 2016, Colorado mourned him.
Reports began to surface that Svatos had been found dead in his Lone Tree home that day, and were confirmed shortly before the Avalanche were set to face off against the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center. A moment of silence was held prior to the start of the game as both teams paid their respects (Svatos had signed a two-year contract with the Blues prior to the start of the 2010-2011 season, but had to clear waivers before he could join the team; as a result, the Nashville Predators claimed him before Svatos was able to suit up with the Blues, according to TSN.ca).
The Avalanche would honor Svatos in a pre-game ceremony at Pepsi Center days later.
Svatos was survived by his wife, Diana, and their two sons. He was 34 years old.
While the tale of Svatos’ passing is indeed heartbreaking, the story took an even more tragic turn when it was revealed by the Douglas County Coroner’s Office (and reported by Tom McGhee of The Denver Post), that Svatos had “traces of codeine, morphine and the anti-anxiety medication Xanax” in his system at the time of his death. McGhee’s article, which can be read here, further illustrates other details that the coroner’s office discovered leading up to Svatos’ death.
“There’s no worse feeling than not being able to play the game you love,” Svatos told the Associated Press (via ESPN.com) after playing in the best game of his career.
Unfortunately, he died experiencing a worse feeling than being unable to play hockey.
This article isn’t meant to illustrate how Svatos died; rather, it is an attempt to illustrate that, by playing a game he loved in a community that came to love him, Svatos the hockey player truly felt alive. The life of an athlete is oftentimes glamorized and romanticized, and players are heralded as role models and examples to look up to. Svatos the player was embraced, but Colorado mourned the death of Svatos the person upon realizing that he had indeed passed away. He hadn’t worn an Avalanche sweater in many years, but he was given one final salute by the community who had respect for his talent, and to say goodbye to the person who he had entertained and delighted with his skill.
Marek Svatos’ time with the Avalanche was cut far too short by injury. His time on earth was cut far too short, far too soon. Yet, while he was here, the Avalanche community cheered for him, his teammates supported him, and his family loved him. Tragedy claimed his life, but Colorado claimed his heart.
Time may be fleeting, but our memories of Marek Svatos will always endure.