Thursday, September 08, 2011

Tragedy Affects All Hockey Fans

News of yesterday's tragic air disaster in the city of Yaroslavl, Russia hit hard.

A whole team's worth of players, coaches and managers claimed by the incident.

At first, one might have thought Yaroslavl was a far off place in a strange new league. But once we started to look deeper and hear the names that were claimed by the accident, it became clear to everyone that if you knew and loved hockey that someone you knew, many you admired were gone.

Brad McCrimmon was the only Canadian national, but Canadian hockey fans will be mourning the losses of players that excited and enchanted with their play in their local arenas and on their Saturday night broadcasts.

The Habs were not directly affected, but no one is spared. Many of the current Habs had former teammates and friends on that flight.

Erik Cole came up at the same time as Josef Vasicek in Carolina, they made two Cup finals together and were champions in 2006.

Plekanec and Spacek would have known him well from Czech international team duty, and they would know Karel Rachunek and Jan Marek well too.

Peter Budaj played with Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins (the two being traded for one another a few years ago) and would probably have revered Pavol Demitra as a captain, teammate and decorated countryman.

Andrei Kostitsyn lost a national team teammate in Salei, a Belarussian pioneer in the NHL.

Cammalleri played with Pavol Demitra on the west coast.

Gionta played with Rachunek in NJ.

Travis Moen too played with Salei in Anaheim.

Andrei Markov knows many of these young men from his time in Russian hockey and of course with his time spent with the national team. The same would be true of Alexei Emelin.

Bob Gainey and many of the RDS crew from the 1989 Habs will remember McCrimmon, as I do, as a fierce and worthy champion that extraordinary season.

Other connections, I'm sure I've missed. And of course most others would know these men as competitors and rivals.

And the other poor players who perished on the ill-fated flight are hockey players many of us never had a real chance to get to know before now. Some of them very young, and some of them with long distinguished careers in a parallel league and system to the ones we follow.

Such is the size of the web that connects everyone who loves ice hockey.

As commissioner Bettman said, though this was miles away from North America, it was ever so close to home on so many fronts.

Our thoughts are with all the families of the players, coaches and managers who lost their dear ones. Our thoughts are with the former teammates who try to deal with the grief and sorrow of losing so many close friends too soon.

The summer of 2011 has once again shown us how hockey and life can intersect in so many ways not always apparent to us. As the sensible and respectful JT put it:

"It comes down to the fact that hockey is entertainment. Sure, we want to win, and Canadiens fans perhaps want to win more than anyone. This summer, however, we have learned we cannot satisfy our vicarious thirst for victory through young men who are all too human. They are people, and through the miserable events of this summer, player and fan are perhaps more understanding of each other than they've ever been."

Important that we remember this as we prepare to embark on another season of thrills and spills.

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