Moments ago, we passed along Pavel Datsyuk’s moving tribute to his former Detroit Red Wings teammate Ruslan Salei. While Datsyuk will wear number 24 for the duration of training camp and the preseason in honor of Salei, other NHL players are providing their own odes to those lost.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that St. Louis Blues forward Philip McRae will give up number 38 in honor of two former Blues who died in that tragic plane crash: Pavol Demitra and Igor Korolev.
McRae will instead don number 39, which might invite some good natured ribbing from at least one former Blue.
“I just wanted to switch my number just out of respect for both families,” said McRae, who grew up in St. Louis but didn’t know either player on a personal level. “I felt like it was the right thing to do. Obviously, I feel I shouldn’t be wearing it any more after that.”
McRae will wear No. 39, which has been worn by Kelly Chase and Doug Weight among others in St. Louis. “I’m sure once ‘Chaser’ finds out, he’s going to be giving me a hard time,” McRae joked.
That’s a great gesture from McRae, who made his debut with the Blues last season by scoring one goal and two assists for three points with a -10 rating in 15 regular season games. If his early results are any indication, McRae might have a shot at making an impact as number 38. Jeremy Rutherford reports that McRae topped all players at the Traverse City tournament with seven points and also aced the team’s fitness tests.
(H/T to Rotoworld.)
Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov ranks among the many who felt a direct connection to that awful accident. The Russian goalie was a product of the team’s system.
“That was my old team,” Varlamov said softly Friday after undergoing a battery of medical and physical tests at the Pepsi Center in preparation for the first official training camp sessions Saturday.
“I played there for eight years,” he said. “When it happened, I felt I had to go to Yaroslavl and see the fans and the families and everybody. It was a tough time for everybody in Yaroslavl and in Russia. And I’m so sad.”
Sadly, Varlamov isn’t the only Avalanche player who must grapple with the losses of former friends. Winger Milan Hejduk told NHL.com that he knew seven or eight players who died in the crash. Center Paul Stastny shared his memories of Demitra, whom he knew for most of his life because his father Peter played with Demitra in St. Louis and was also a scout for the Blues.
“I was closest to Demitra,” Paul Stastny said. “As a family friend, we’ve known him for 20-plus years. He was one of my role models growing up. ‘Scratch’ (Skrastins) was my roommate my first two years and Rusty (Salei) was my teammate for two years. I think the hardest part is I know their wives and I know their kids. For those kids to grow up without their fathers, who died at such a young age, it’s such a fragile thing. It’s tough to think about.
“I knew Demitra’s wife really well. They lost one kid a couple months after birth and now they’ve lost him. Hopefully they get as much help as possible and get through it, all the families. You realize how important life is. There’s a lot more to life than sports. It’s more about family and friends, and enjoying every second of it.”