Remembering Lokomotiv Yaroslavl on hockey’s darkest day

IIHF President Rene Fasel said it best.‎

“This is the darkest day in the history of our sport.”

It’s hard to argue against that statement.

44 people died today in Russia as a plane carrying the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crashed soon after takeoff.

Killed in the accident were Lokomotiv head coach Brad McCrimmon, assistant coaches Igor Korolev and Alexander Karpovtsev, and players Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei, Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek, Karlis Skrastins and Alexander Vasyunov, all men who had played in the NHL.

Also among the dead are players Yuri Urychev and Daniil Sobchenko, both members of the Russian squad that won the gold at the 2011 World Junior Championships in Buffalo a mere eight months ago. Many others were NHL draft picks.

McCrimmon played over 1200 NHL games, won a Stanley Cup in 1989 with Calgary and was an original Phoenix Coyote. Demitra was a three-time NHL All-Star, Lady Byng Trophy winner, and scored over 300 goals in his NHL career. Vasicek was a part of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes team that defeated Buffalo in the conference finals and claimed the Stanley Cup. Karpovtsev won a Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994. Salei was on the 2003 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim team that lost to New Jersey in the Finals.

The list accomplishments of the group lost today goes on and on.

I didn’t know any of them. I had never met any of them. To say I was close to them would be nonsense. But some of the men lost today were indirectly part of our lives, without ever really being in it.

As fans, we have these moments that we can call back to, maybe because they were great, or because they were awful. Just like a song can, it brings you back to where you were, and how you felt. And you think about your life, and the way it has developed. And in instances like this, you appreciate that a guy who you never met, that wasn’t ever aware that you even existed, could influence how you feel.

It could be Karel Rachunek attempting to defend Thomas Vanek in front of the net on a beautiful Buffalo spring night in 2007. It was those two who stood in the way of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist as Maxim Afinogenov’s slap shot from the blue line slid into the net. That moment is one of the greatest hockey moments in a lot of fan’s lives, especially ones who fell in love with the sport that season.

We can all remember that game. We love thinking about that game. Chris Drury’s goal to tie it. The jubilation of the victory. It was a defining moment in one of the best seasons in Sabres history. It was an amazing night to be a fan, and that replay will always remind us that.

But now, when we watch that replay, we’ll be brought back to today as well, when we heard that Karel was among the many who perished. With the joy will come sadness. And that’s a disappointing turn of events.

It’ll be the same when we see Rob Ray’s ridiculous between the legs goal in Game 4 of the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals. What Leafs defenseman is standing between Ray and Curtis Joseph? Lokomotiv assistant coach Alexander Karpovtsev.

Last game at Memorial Auditorium? That April 1996 day was one of the most memorable days in the history of the franchise, a closing of an era. The goals are etched in memory. So is that third period brawl. Now when we watch that replay, we’ll hear the name “McCrimmon” and our hearts will sink a little bit.

The memories of thousands upon thousands of NHL games are now forever linked to this awful day. Whether it’s a unremarkable 6-1 Sabres victory in New Jersey in October 2010, where Alex Vasyunov made his NHL debut, or watching Pavol Demitra skate out for player introductions right before Alexei Zhitnik at the 1999 NHL All-Star Game, there’s going to be a reminder of today.

We all have our own way with coping with death. The fact that these men are gone won’t really have an effect on the way most of us will live out the rest of our lives. But in a small way, their existence in our lives, as miniscule as it was, makes us who we are. It influences who we’ve become. So does the way we reacted this morning when we heard the news.

Condolences to all of those who lost friends, family and colleagues.

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Posted on September 7, 2011, in Sabres/NHL and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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