September 7, 2011 will go down as one of the darkest days in hockey history, as at least 43 people died in a horrific plane crash on Wednesday. As you probably know by know, the KHL team Lokomotiv suffered most of the losses. While PHT took a look at how the NHL reacted to the stunning news and how people hope to eventually move on from the tragedy, it seems like a good time to look back on the lives of some of the victims.
(For a full list of the players and team members who were believed to be on board, click here.)
Brad McCrimmon (52 years old): McCrimmon was a former assistant coach with the Red Wings who hoped to advance his coaching career by becoming Lokomotiv’s bench boss in May. He had a distinguished NHL career in which he finished with a +444 rating as a defenseman. (You can read more about his career and life in this story at CSNPhilly.com.) Craig Custance provided these heartfelt words about McCrimmon.
McCrimmon connected with everyone — children, teammates, fans, media. He was an incredible father to his two children and was loved by those he played with — and those who played for him. He was ready to take on his latest challenge in life, and it was easy to see it resulting in a future offer for an NHL job. Mostly because he didn’t just talk of things he learned on the farm — trust, respect, discipline, accountability and sacrifice. He lived it. Just not nearly long enough.
Pavol Demitra (36): Demitra was a three-time All-Star during an NHL career that spanned 16 seasons. Injuries were often a problem for the very skilled Slovakian, but he showed how much of an impact he could make in the 2010 Olympics, scoring 10 points in just seven games to become the tournament’s leading scorer. Michael Russo caught up with Demitra’s agent, who provided this heartbreaking quote.
I just got off the phone with agent Matt Keator, who was with Demitra in Riga, Latvia, three weeks ago and confirmed to me that Demitra sadly was killed: “I just want everybody to know what kind of infectious energy he has, what a wonderful person he was. People were drawn to Demo.”
Ruslan Salei (36): Just as recently as last season, Salei was an NHL defenseman with the Detroit Red Wings. The rugged defensemen played 917 regular season games in his NHL career, but many will remember him for his off-beat sense of humor, including his strange craving for a drink that was “half-Pepsi, half-beer.”
Karlis Skrastins (37): The stay-at-home defenseman earned an “Ironman” streak by playing 487 consecutive games, but former PHT editor Brandon Worley remembers him as a warm and inviting person off the ice.
I had the pleasure of meeting Karlis Skrastins last fall. Like many NHL players he was more than willing to stop and chat. I walked away amazed at how humble he was and how quick to smile he was while chatting with me, a genuinely nice guy whose enthusiasm for hockey was infectious. His teammates felt the same way and everyone will remember Karlis as a man who made an impact on their lives just from having known him, how his quiet intensity drove him every night on the ice and his work ethic drove him off it.
Josef Vasicek (30): The Czech-born forward played for the New York Islanders, Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes before moving on to the KHL. His best memories from his seven NHL seasons probably came during the 2006 playoffs when he won a Stanley Cup with Carolina.
Karel Rachunek (32): The former Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils defenseman has been affiliated with Lokomotiv even before the team became a member of the KHL. He was the team’s captain.
Alexander Karpovtsev (41) and Igor Korolev (41): Two former Chicago Blackhawks who served as assistant coaches were also victims of the crash.
Since we couldn’t cover every player and coach who was a victim of this awful accident, here’s a video tribute to the team that hopefully does everyone justice. (H/T to The Royal Half.)
(Various sources were helpful in putting together this post, including these bios from The Associated Press.)