When former NHL defenceman turned coach Brad McCrimmon perished in the Yaroslav air disaster just more than a year ago, it was unspeakable loss. There's no knowing how much it hurt within the extended family of the Brandon Wheat Kings, who are operated by Kelly McCrimmon, the coach's brother.
The Brandon owner and general manager has been very candid about the loss of his sibling, whom he played with on a Memorial Cup-finalist Wheat Kings team in 1979. One element of the story that hasn't been played up much outside Manitoba is the tragedy had some déjà vu for that province's only major junior hockey team. Current Brandon captain Ryan Pulock, a potential NHL first-round pick, was 15 years old when he endured the 2010 car crash that took the life of his 13-year-old brother, Brock Pulock. It's an emotional well that should be tapped very selectively, but TSN's Leah Hextall got both Ryan Pulock and Kelly McCrimmon to open up about how losing their brothers has helped them connect.
Pulock: "It hurt me to hear that [Brad McCrimmon had died] just because of how, what I've gone through, to know how much Kelly's helped me get through that and for that to happen to him."
McCrimmon: "Ryan's a quieter guy. I've always felt a connection with Ryan, even prior to what happened with Brad. And since then, even more so. It's unfortunately given us something in common that we can each relate to what the other has gone through. And from that standpoint it's probably made us even closer."
Pulock: "Kelly's a strong man. I think he did very well to get through that and keep this organization on track." (TSN)
It's remarkable TV, since hockey really isn't a realm where you see people bare their soul. It hasn't been the way it goes. In Western Canada, the long-standing stereotype is that the challenges involved in becoming a hockey player, travelling great distances in often-harsh winter weather to find decent competition, favours stoic personalities. (To give a specific Manitoba example, the province has one AAA midget team, the Thompson-based Norman Northstars, which often travels 10 hours by bus for road trips which can involve four games in four days; keep in mind that's 15- to 17-year-old boys.) Seeing the honesty from Pulock and McCrimmon shows that stereotypes aren't always airtight.
McCrimmon's concern for Pulock has been there since he joined the Wheat Kings. As the Wheat Kings' coach at the time, he excused Pulock from the team in the middle of a 2011 playoff series so he could visit Brock Pulock's grave with his family on the one-year anniversary of the crash. That speaks to how even though junior hockey is an all-consuming endeavour, some things are bigger than the game.
Ryan Pulock is remarkable enough for blossoming into one of the Western Hockey League's best defencemen. He grew up playing forward growing up in the 800-person community of Grandview, Manitoba and was a seventh-round pick out of minor hockey. One could cheer for him just based on that back story alone.
(Stick tap: Mark Stone.)
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.