September 07, 2011
"Right now there is no hope. The team is gone."
Reading those words from a Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team official to SovSport remains one of the more emotionally humbling moments of this incredible tragedy that's befallen the hockey world.
The plane crash that claimed the lives of 43 people took a collection of good fathers, friends and peers away from us; men who made an impact in their homelands as hockey stars and, in some cases, in the NHL.
Here's a look at the NHL veterans who died in Wednesday's crash. Please remember all who lost their lives in this tragedy, as well as the family they've left behind.
There's a duality to stardom in the NHL. For example, a player can be a familiar name in North America but complete rock star back home, wherever home might be.
For Pavol Demitra, home was Dubnica, Slovakia. And he was a rock star.
I got a sense of that twice in the last two years. At the Vancouver Olympics, Demitra scored the definitive goal of Slovakia's upset victory over Russia in the preliminary round, banking a shot off the left post and behind Ilya Bryzgalov(notes). By all logic, the Slovaks should have been exhausted by that point in the game, having played in an intense loss to the Czech Republic less than 24 hours earlier. Said Demitra, in a line to which today's events lend an eerie context:
"When you play for your country in the Olympics ... you have one chance in your life. You have to do whatever you can."
The second time Demitra came off as a rock star was when he retired from the national team earlier this year. His sendoff was an emotional, tear-filled moment for the fans and their captain.
After his national team work and NHL stints with the St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks -- during which he displayed memorable offensive flourish -- Demitra wasn't ready to completely step away from hockey yet; planning on at least one more season with Lokomotic before contemplating retirement.
Little did any of us know how significant that farewell on the ice at IIHF Worlds would be.
McCrimmon played in the NHL from 1979-1997, and after serving as an assistant coach with four teams was preparing to make his debut as a head coach with Lokomotiv.
As a player, he formed an impressive defensive pairing with future NHL Hall of Famer Mark Howe, who remembered McCrimmon in a chat with Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun:
"As a player he was the best partner I ever had," said Howe, a recent Hall of Fame inductee. "We lived, ate and drank together for three years and just had a certain chemistry on the ice, and that carried over off the ice. If you wanted someone to tell you lies and talk behind your back, you had the wrong guy. If you needed someone in a dire situation, he was always there. I consider him one of my best friends, and that had nothing to do with hockey."
Jamie Macoun said not only could you count on Beast as a defenceman but also as a banker.
"You could go on the road way back when, and any time you'd need a few bucks, he'd always have a thousand bucks on him — he was a farm boy, and he'd say, 'Never trust the bank and carry your money with ya.' It's the boy scout in him — always be prepared."
Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock attempted to visit McCrimmon's surviving family this morning, according to MLive.com. "Obviously, it's a tough day around here," Babcock said. "Our thoughts and our prayers go out to the family. You're concerned. We know his kids well. He's a good man. He's been a real big part of our organization here."
Rusty was perhaps best known for his time with the Ducks, as Eric Stephens wrote on Ducks Blog:
Those who knew Salei and were close to the 36-year-old blue-liner remember his tough play on the ice and his affable, honest nature off it. Whenever a reporter greeted the defenseman, the response from Salei was usually a big, "How yooou dooin?"
Salei, 36, played his first nine seasons with the Ducks after being drafted by the club in 1996 and was a key cog in their magical 2003 run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals against New Jersey.
The LA Times reports that Salei's bond with the Ducks franchise was so strong that his post-KHL plans included them. From Helene Elliott, speaking with Ducks media director Alex Gilchrist:
"He was hoping to play another year or two and come back and become part of the alumni organization," Gilchrist said. "He was one of those guys who would reach out and call every summer just to say hello and see how everyone was doing.
"We were talking about him in the office last week, talking about guys who come over and have trouble adjusting and about guys like Rusty, who just fit in and adjusted so quickly."
Salei was entering his first season in the KHL.
The forward began his career with the Carolina Hurricanes, winning the Stanley Cup with them in 2006. He played with the Nashville Predators and then the New York Islanders before leaving for the KHL in 2008 as a member of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.
Luke DeCock of the News and Observer looks back at Vasicek's time in Carolina:
Looking back, I guess the only advantage I had over Josef Vasicek was that I spoke better English. We were both rookies in the fall of 2000, him in the NHL and me covering the NHL, both feeling our way through all the usual blind corners and dark alleys.
Joe was once like me -- six years younger that fall, but learning his job just as I was learning mine. He left the Hurricanes in 2007; I left the Hurricanes' beat in 2008. When he was traded back to Carolina at the trade deadline in 2007, I reached him on the phone that night.
His first words to me? "I was so happy," he said. "To come back to a place that I know, it's great to be coming home."
Vasicek, who died in the plane crash Wednesday that claimed his entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team only five days short of his 31st birthday, was unfailingly cheerful, a good guy by the standards of the game of hockey and the game of life.
The Canes acknowledged both Vasicek and McCrimmon, who played with the Hartford Whalers, in a statement:
"We are deeply saddened to learn of today's tragedy in Russia," said GM Jim Rutherford. "Josef was an key part of the Hurricanes for six years, helping us achieve some of our greatest successes. More importantly, he was a great teammate on and off the ice, and was respected as a person as well as a player.
"Brad McCrimmon was a member of our team while we were still in Hartford, and was well-liked by all who came in contact with him. His presence in the hockey community will be greatly missed.
"Our thoughts and prayers go to the Vasicek and McCrimmon families, and the loved ones of all of today's victims."
The veteran defenseman played from 1998-2011 with the Nashville Predators, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars.
Here are members of the Stars remembering Skrastins and others:
Defending Big D also has a nice remembrance of Skrastins.
"This is such a sad day. I knew six or seven of the guys on that team (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl)," Elias said. "I was closest to Karel. We played together on the Czech team during the lockout. And, of course, with the Devils.
"He was very easy-going. He had a tough time in New Jersey. I always felt hockey-wise he had a chance to be our best 'D' but it was tough for him. He didn't talk much so some people got the wrong opinion of him, but everyone would tell you he was a great guy. He has two little kids. It's so sad."
Rachunek had played with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl on and off since 2002.
As a Devils fan, I always felt New York Rangers defenseman Alexander Karpovtsev was unfairly maligned. He wasn't spectacular, he had his lapses, but he was a solid defenseman. He also played with the Islanders, Panthers and the Chicago Blackhawks, who issued this statement via ESPN Chicago:
"We stand together with the entire KHL, NHL and hockey world in mourning today's tragic news concerning the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team," the Hawks said in a statement. "The tragedy affects the Chicago Blackhawks family directly as we mourn the losses of Alexander Karpovtsev and Igor Korolev, two players who spent time with our organization and that our fans know well. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl organization."
Karpovtsev, as assistant coach with Lokomotiv, won a Stanley Cup with the Rangers in 1994.
Korolev, another assistant coach, played in the NHL from 1992-2004, finishing his playing career with Lokomotiv in 2010. He had stints with the Blackhawks, Maple Leafs and the Jets/Coyotes, and was drafted by the St. Louis Blues. From Jeff Gordon of the STLToday.com:
Korolev came to St. Louis with Vitali (Big V) Karamnov and Vitali (Little V) Prokhorov as part of this team's much-ballyhooed Russian invasion.
General manager Ron Caron drafted them sight unseen and brought them to North America. Korolev, the most talented of the three players, didn't make a big mark here (43 points in 147 games) but had enjoyed a 795-game run in the NHL.
His signature play for the Blues was controlling the puck in the corner, passing the puck to himself again and again while waiting for a play to materialize -— and for coach Bob Berry's heart to explode on the Blues bench.
Chronicling Korolev's challenging transition to North American life was one of my favorite Post-Dispatch hockey stories of all time. It doesn't seem that long ago that I was visiting Igor and his family at their rented home in South St. Louis County after a season, with fellow Russian Alexei Zhamnov in town visiting them.
As I recalled, he chose his words carefully and smiled a lot -— pretty much his M.O. during his whole career.
Please feel free to leave your memories and tributes to these players and anyone who lost their lives in this morning's crash inside the comments section.
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