datsyuk24

Pavel Datsyuk will wear number 24 during the preseason to honor former teammate Ruslan Salei

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Families of the victims, the KHL and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl are feeling the greatest impact from that terrible plane crash, but that tragedy reaches past borders. Beyond affecting the hockey community at large, the victims included several former NHL players and coaches whose untimely deaths left many heartbroken.

The Detroit Red Wings were among the NHL teams who were hit the hardest by the crash, with former assistant coach Brad McCrimmon and defenseman Ruslan Salei being such recent fixtures with the club. (The team was likely also shaken by the death of Stefan Liv, a former prospect.)

In a heartwarming gesture, the team announced that Russian star Pavel Datsyuk will switch from his typical number 13 to Salei’s number 24 during training camp and all eight preseason games to honor his teammate. Salei was a defenseman with Detroit during the 2010-11 season.

“I think everybody misses Ruslan Salei,” Datsyuk said. “It’s an honor to wear his preseason jersey. I have only good memories when I remember Ruslan. I’m very happy to put No. 24 on my jersey for the preseason.”

(snip)

While the entire team has been affected by the loss of Salei, McCrimmon, and former prospect Stefan Liv, it has particularly hurt Datsyuk, who had a close bond to Salei. The pair used to sit together on team flights and bus rides to and from rinks.

“I had hoped to know him more (then) on year,” Datsyuk said. “We knew each other before, but last year we flew together and talked. Now I miss him.
“I have one daughter, but he has three kids, and one of the kids plays hockey. I think it’s tough. He was a real good man.”

Echoing the thoughts of a considerable chunk of the hockey population, Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock praised Datsyuk for his emotionally charged gesture toward a former teammate and friend.

“I think that it’s absolutely outstanding,” said Babcock, of Datsyuk’s action. “I talked to Bethann the other night, Rusty’s wife, and she was talking about the kids and remembering Rusty.

“She was talking about taking her little guy to hockey the other night, and he said to her, ‘I’m not playing anymore. Pappa doesn’t play anymore; I’m not playing anymore.’ What do you say? I think it’s fantastic by Pavel, and obviously we’re going to miss Beast and Rusty.”

The Red Wings will be in attendance for McCrimmon’s funeral in Farmington, Michigan on Saturday afternoon, making this one of what could be many incredibly emotional days for the franchise going into what could be a pivotal 2011-12 campaign.

(Image via the Red Wings.)

Some tough decisions await the Blues

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Yet again, the St. Louis Blues failed to achieve their ultimate goal.

And boy does it hurt right now.

“We’re all hurting,” coach Ken Hitchcock said last night after getting eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

“You don’t want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block. In this game, in this era, in this cap world, you don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now.”

Indeed, GM Doug Armstrong has some tough decisions to make this offseason.

At the top of the list is whether to bring Hitchcock back. Yes, the Blues did better than 26 other teams, and yes, they finally got past the first round. Still, there are people who believe this will be it for the head coach, that a new voice could help. Overall, Hitchcock has done a great job in St. Louis. But then, so did Todd McLellan in San Jose. Sometimes, change can be good.

Then there are the unrestricted free agents. Both captain David Backes and winger Troy Brouwer need new contracts. The former is 32, the latter 30. The former had seven goals in the playoffs, the latter eight. How much money will they want? How much term? The second question might be the most important.

On the back end, it’s Kevin Shattenkirk that will garner the most attention. He’s signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Just 27 years old, and considering the demand for what he does, he’ll be very expensive to keep. And with the emergence of Colton Parayko, trading Shattenkirk could probably be justified, especially if the return is good. A team like the Boston Bruins might be willing to pay up.

Right now, the pain is still fresh for the Blues.

“It’s so hard to win in the league right now,” said Hitchcock. “It’s so hard to win a series. So hard to just get in the playoffs. When you get this far, you get this close, you think you got the opportunity.”

The challenge for Armstrong will be to give his team another opportunity next season. And with the draft less than a month away, all these tough decisions will need to be made very soon.

Goals of the Week get tougher as Cup Final approaches

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The Stanley Cup Final is almost upon us and picking the very best Goals of the Week is a tough task. See how we did on this edition!

Just for Men: Mike Commodore

RALEIGH, NC - JUNE 14:  Mike Commodore #22 of the Carolina Hurricanes warms up before game five of the 2006 NHL Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers on June 14, 2006 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Maybe one would argue that time hasn’t been kind to the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning Carolina Hurricanes (at least compared to the pedigree of other winners), but Mike Commodore’s incredible red afro and beard rank as one of hockey’s most timeless combinations.

Seriously, just take a step back from your monitor* and bask in the splendor of that carrot-topped Commodore.

Even then-President George W. Bush remarked on Commodore’s bushy hair and beard (or its tragic absence) when the Canes visited the White House:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. Have a seat. It’s a pretty big deal for a guy that doesn’t know how to ice skate — (laughter) — to welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to the White House. We appreciate you coming. You know, I’m not sure what is prettier, the Stanley Cup, or Mike Commodore’s hair. (Laughter.) A little disappointed you got a haircut. (Laughter.) But, welcome.

Good stuff.

And it really is kind of disappointing any time you see Commodore relatively clean-shaven. It’s like Superman without a big “S” on his chest or Metallica with short hair or any number of not-quite-right sights.

* – If you’re doing the Rumsfeld-style “standing at your desk” thing then … kneel for a second maybe?

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
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There’s nothing better than a Game 7, especially when a spot in the Stanley Cup Final is up for grabs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins will battle in a do-or-die game for the right to play the San Jose Sharks with Lord Stanley on the line. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 7 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for this one:

Penguins, Lightning prepare for ‘roller coaster’ Game 7

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal