On September 7th, 2011, the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team of the Russian KHL set out on a flight intended to land in Minsk, Belarus to open their regular season. The team was very excited to begin the season with a very solid roster consisting of various former NHL stars and a new coaching staff featuring NHL veterans Brad McCrimmon (who had taken the job in hopes of it leading to one day obtaining an NHL head coaching job), Igor Korolev, and Alexander Karpovtsev. The team had gone 7-2 in a 9 game preseason and looked to be highly competitive. Sadly, fate had other plans, as the plane crashed due to a pilot error, killing the entire main roster (with the exception of forward Maxim Zyuzyakin, who had been instructed by McCrimmon to stay behind and rendezvous with the team in Moscow) plus four members of the youth team.
A huge wave of shock overcame the entire hockey world, and tributes were made by teams across the planet.
There were countless other homages and sentimental words. Boston Bruins captain and Slovakian national team staple Zdeno Chara remembered his friend Demitra (one name that really hit me to see in that list, as he was one of my favorite players during my formative years) as “a guy who was always easy going, was always friendly with everybody and never really had conflict with anybody,” and also noted his strong dedication to his wife and two children. McCrimmon was also once a close companion of Chara’s, as he was an assistant coach with the Islanders during Chara’s first two seasons in North American professional hockey. His former teammate Lanny MacDonald, Hockey Hall of Famer, described McCrimmon (like Demitra, a father of two) with this bit of remembrance – “He was tough, he was abrasive, but on the inside he was a big teddy bear, a big softie.” He was strongly dedicated to family and was very in touch with his hometown of Plenty, Saskatchewan, where he had grown up on his family farm. He was a man that had never forgotten where his heart and dedication lay.
Centre Josef Vasicek was a member of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes team that won the Stanley Cup under the coaching of Peter Laviolette, who described Vasicek as a good player who was the quiet type, and was sad to see the loss of such a promising young life and that of many others. That shows the magnitude of the tragedy – The bulldog of a coach was shaken. That takes quite a bit.
The team went into a rebuilding phase, and participated in the second-tier VHL for the 2011-12 season (Zyuzyakin was named captain for that season). Despite the tragedy, Lokomotiv continued to be competitive, returning to the KHL for the 2012-13 season and entering the playoffs as the fourth seed under the leadership of new head coach Tom Rowe. LIke that of the Marshall football team before them, the fan base remained strong and eventually rebounded. The determination of these people should serve as a statute of loyalty for all others to follow. We saw it in Boston with the Bruins after the Marathon bombings – In troubling times, sports can bring a city together. When a group of people walk together hand-in-hand with heads held high, even the deepest darkness shall soon be broken by light.
It’s a very difficult topic and one that sporting authorities dislike talking about, but most leagues have a disaster plan. If you would like to know more about them, refer here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disaster_draft
Best wishes, everyone, and to all going through personal struggles – Strength and determination to you.