It was one year ago today when the foundation of the hockey world shook the entire world. On September 7, 2011, the aircraft of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the KHL crashed, killing everyone on board.
Those on the flight were former Los Angeles King Pavol Demitra, former NHLers Ruslan Salei, Karlis Skrastins, Igor Korolev and head coach Brad McCrimmon just to name a few.
Years ago, my brother and I talked about writing a screenplay together. While brainstorming, he suggested writing a story about the aftermath of an entire hockey team lost in a plane crash. Although it was logical that the odds of something like this happening were possible, albeit very minimal, it was impossible for us to stop and consider that something like this could actually happen. Last year when it did, I was in utter shock. I was texted by a colleague who told me what had happened. It was still farly early in the morning so I initially thought that I wasn’t fully awake and that I misread what he wrote. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Being that Pavol Demitra was one of my favourite players (even before he went to Los Angeles), I was devastated. With that said, the events would not have been any less tragic had Demitra not be on board.
The sport of hockey has never had to endure a tragedy of this magnitude, although the football world did experience a similar fate when on November 14, 1970, Southern Airways Flight 932 crashed into a hill just short of its destination killing all 75 people on board. Of those 75, 38 consisted of the entire roster for the Marshall (University) Thundering Herd. In addition to the players, eight were coaches, 25 were boosters and the rest were employees of the aircraft. It goes without saying that this is a tragedy you couldn’t possibly wish upon your worst enemy.
While Marshall’s football team did their best to move on, Lokomotiv did the same. After Lokomotiv canceled their participation that season, the club had time to recuperate and house a new roster. The team was ultimately relegated to a third-tier league and, just yesterday, played their first game since last September’s tragedy.
I remember most of the players who perished in different (but all admirable) ways. Growing up in Ottawa and hating the Senators, nothing amused me more than the team being asinine enough to trade Pavol Demitra. I even bought a Blues jersey, put Demitra’s name on it and shaved my head bald so I could take pride looking like him (give me a break, I was a teenager). I don’t have to tell how thrilled I was when he signed with the Kings and how upset I was when he was traded. I’ll always remember Alexander Karpovtsev as one of the more underrated on a Rangers Cup-winning team otherwise laden with veterans from the dynasty years of the Oilers.
While I mostly remember Ruslan Salei for a cheapshot on Dallas’ Mike Modano early in the 1999-2000 season, he was an admirable workhorse of a defenseman that was a significant asset to each club he played for. While the Hurricanes were en route to their Cinderella run to the Cup Finals in 2002, I was particularly interested in one Josef Vasicek who appeared in the limelight during that playoff year and played his heart out every night. I was especially happy for him when he and his Canes won the Stanley Cup four years later.
When I think of Karlis Skrastins, I think of my best friend who, like the defenseman, is Latvian and always took enormous pride in the players who were from her country. I remember Igor Korolev as a journeyman and, when he was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, I had the pleasure of meeting him briefly. I remember he was quiet but very polite.
Lastly, there’s the head coach. Back in the late 80’s, early 90’s, my oldest brother was a huge Calgary Flames fan. After their Cup win in 1989, his passion for the team only grew stronger. One summer, he decided to write a number of the Flames players, one of which was Brad McCrimmon, who was one of the few to write my brother back. Although I don’t remember what he said, I do remember how genuine McCrimmon’s response was, talking to my brother almost as if they were old friends.
Reflecting on what comes to mind when I think of the aforementioned gives me a feeling of satisfaction but with that, a sense of great sadness that these men are no longer with us. I believe each person lost in last year’s plane crash are in a much better place as they did a lot of good while they were here.
Today, we remember the members of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team as well as everyone else on board that fateful day exactly one year ago.
On this day especially, my thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of each and every member lost.
Rest in peace.
Photo: Courtesy of Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images