By all accounts George Pelawa was destined for greatness.
At eighteen-years-old he was physically imposing, standing 6'3" and weighing 235 lbs, and his hands were as soft as the way he spoke which is why the Calgary Flames couldn't resist selecting the native of Bemidji, Minnesota, 16th overall in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft.
Very few ever saw him play, but the one's that did said he handled the puck like a 5'10", 170-pound superstar, had a quick release, skated very well, and had a bit of a nasty streak though at times he was accused of being too soft.
He was an all-round athlete, as he also played fullback on the Bemidji Lumberjacks football team, averaging 9.9 yds a carry in his senior year.
Pelawa was not a great student, and because of that the University of Minnesota passed on him, despite being handed the prestigious Mr. Hockey award; which is given to the most outstanding senior high school hockey player in the state of Minnesota as selected by NHL scouts and Division I coaches.
He was signed by the University of North Dakota, and it was rumoured he would play for the Fighting Sioux for a year before he headed to the US Olympic Team and then join Calgary.
Unfortunately it was all for naught, as big George was killed in a automobile accident not too far from his hometown of Bemidji, just months after the draft.
It has long been rumoured that Tom Cochrane's song "Big League" is about the Minnesota high school standout, as he had met the senior Pelawa in an arena just before sound check and he had filled him in on the story of his son.
One can only speculate just how well George Pelawa would have done if he had gotten the opportunity to display his skills at the NHL level—at the time he would have been one of the largest men in the league.
For a team like the Calgary Flames, who haven't had the greatest record with their first-round selections over the years, it must have been a tough pill to swallow losing quite possibly what may have been one of their best.
While the team and us as fans all lost the enjoyment of watching him play on hockey's biggest stage, his family and friends all lost a talented, soft-spoken young man with a huge heart.
George Pelawa would have been 41 right now, and maybe just wrapping up a storied hockey career. Instead, it now has become a story of just how precious life is which may be something we all need reminded of this holiday season.
The Flames to this day still offer a scholarship to Bemidji High School students in his name.