It has been an awful, awful summer for hockey. The personal tragedies of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak have struck a political chord across hockey and sports. After people reflected upon the tragedies of lives lost to soon, it opened up introspection for those who have suffered with, or those who know someone with depression issues. It gave the NHL more motivation to explore the threat of concussions to player's short term and long term health. It may help create sweeping cchange across all sports, actually. Would Sidney Crosby be as cautious about his return without the sad passing of Boogaard, Rypien and Belak? Perhaps not.
But what happened on Wednesday simply does not have a silver lining, as hard as you may look. I'm sure you have all heard now, but an airplane taking the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl KHL team to Minsk, Belarus crashed and killed all but two aboard. Among the dead are former NHLers Pavol Demitra, Stefan Liv, Karel Rachunek, Ruslan Salei, Karlis Skrastins, Joseph Vasicek, Alexander Vasyunov, Brad McCrimmon, Alexander Karpovtsev and Igor Korolev, the last three being coaches with the team. I think it's important to see them listed like this, all ten men. It brings to bear the scope of this tragedy. Every team, every player, every true fan of the game of hockey was affected by this disaster.
For me, a Minnesota Wild fan, Pavol Demitra's untimely passing is undoubtedly the most notable (I refuse to say the saddest, because they are all sad). Demitra came to Minnesota when the Wild were at a crossroads. Were they ready to come into their own, become a stready presence in the playoffs? If so, they needed to give Marian Gaborik a reason to stay, and they needed to find him some help at the offensive end. Demitra was that man. A fellow Slovak and dear friend off the ice, and that yin to Gaborik's Yang off the ice. Gaborik stayed, and the Wild achieved their greatest success while Demitra was in St. Paul. He was too quiet to be popular, but too efective to be disliked. IF anything, Demitra was well respected, a rare feat for athletes this day in age.
Ruslan Salei was the thorn in Minnesota's side when the teams met in 2003's Western Conference finals. Karlis Skrastins was one of the league's go to "funny names" in a league that has many. Joseph Vasicek was the player on EAs NHL 2006 that seemed to be signed and traded weekly. Now, all three have been humanized in their deaths, becoming more than just a name. They were all people we were familiar with just by being fans of the game, and now they have been abruptly taken away from us. If you are like me, and have been reading the touching tributes to any of these 10 men, you regret not getting to know them better.
Demitra, Liv, Rachunek, Salei, Skrastins, Vasicek, Vasyunov, McCrimmon, Karpovtsev and Korolev. All gone too soon.