The news came in slowly, but anyone with knowledge of the inner-workings of the Kontinental Hockey League knew that the result was not going to contain good news. While it made attempts to be the top hockey league in the world when the NHL went on strike a few months back, it was still a league in the former Soviet Union with limited resources. Whether you know the KHL or not, today’s news likely hit home for everyone that’s been a fan of the Red Wings or the NHL as 43 lost their lives in a horrific plane crash.
Brad McCrimmon, Stefan Liv and Ruslan Salei were all once known as members of the Red Wings organization. In fact, McCrimmon (as an assistant coach) and Salei (as a defenseman) were members of the Red Wings only up to a few months ago when they decided to join the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to revitalize their careers. When the team boarded their jet to begin their season they were filled with hopes of getting that one final chance to play in the NHL, little did they know that their trip would end abruptly in disaster.
Plane crash deaths in sports are sadly part of the reality that goes with the continued travel from one city to another. Fans of Manchester United still look back on the Munich air disaster. A recent movie depicted the pain one West Virginian town felt when Marshall lost most of their football team in the 1970s. Evansville and Oklahoma State both lost college basketball players in crashes over the past few decades. While this wasn’t one of the NHL teams losing its entire franchise, it hits home to many of us because these were all once NHL players that we cheered for in the 30 arenas across the league.
One of those that passed today was Pavol Demitra, a Red Wings nemesis for many years and a quality player that was a force to be reckoned with throughout his career. I met Pavol and some of his Blues teammates at a golf clubhouse in Florida during the All-Star break one year. Even though I was interrupting a rare moment for him to relax in the middle of the season, he took the time to briefly chat about the season and his rivalry against the Red Wings. I have fond memories of that moment to this day.
It has been a far more challenging offseason for the NHL family than what they were expecting when the news began that Winnipeg was going to have an NHL franchise this season. Deaths to Wade Belak, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard have made many fans concerned about whether aggressive players are being properly supported once their careers end. Now the latest series of deaths have made many step back and take a look at how we value those individuals that play hockey for a living.