Hockey's Darkest Day

There are no words to encapsulate what happened today.

Perhaps the darkest summer in hockey history continued with perhaps the darkest day in hockey history. A devastating tragedy occurred. 27 hockey players­ and the coaching staff—an entire hockey team, full of veteran NHLers we all knew and came to love over the years—completely wiped out.

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl coach Brad McCrimmon, players Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei, Karel Rachunek, Josef Vasicek, Alexander Yasyunov, Jan Marek, Karlis Skrastins, among so many others, passed away in the most nauseating disaster in hockey history.

This crash did not just affect the KHL, or Russia alone.

It affected everyone in the hockey world.

A Yaroslavl fan lights a candle at a vigil for the fallen players —Reuters


Today proved that the hockey world is a connected community, even through  rivalries and passion. All of us grieved for the loss of not just quality hockey players, but quality people, too. We know what these players meant to us over the past several years. Many who passed were veterans who made their presence known in the National Hockey League.

Sadly, the hockey world lost several of its European standouts.

Veteran Slovak Pavol Demitra paved the way for Slovakian hockey players in the 90s. He ended his career by playing 847 NHL games on top of three appearances in the all-star game. His blinding speed and scoring touch excited NHL fans in Los Angeles and St. Louis.

Defenseman Ruslan Salei of Belarus, 9th overall pick of the Anaheim Ducks, a two-time winner of Belarusian hockey player of the year in 2003 and 2004, played in 917 NHL games. Salei was never one to show up on the scoreboard, but he was always one to be physical.

Latvian defenseman Karlis Skrastins just finished two solid campaigns for the Dallas Stars. He was reportedly one of the nicest and most unselfish players out there. He always prided himself on being a reliable, serviceable defensive defenseman who was out there for the big moments. He dominated the face of hockey in Latvia.

Former NHL defenseman (and Philadelphia Flyer) Brad McCrimmon played alongside Hall of Fame defenseman Mark Howe, and posted a career high +83 in the 1985–86 season. He looked to begin his coaching career in the KHL with Lokomotiv after serving as Detroit’s assistant coach last season. He would never coach once as a head bench boss due to this accident.

The Lokomotiv tragedy is one so devastating that International Ice Hockey Federation president René Fasel called it “the darkest day in the history of our sport.”

The words to write this have been honestly hard to find. The game of hockey may not feel right for a while. So many great people were taken from us. I don’t want to believe they are all dead. It’s simply staggering. Hockey fans just can’t help but feel sick to their stomachs because they just saw these players play a few months ago, alive and well.

It was hockey’s version of its worst nightmare come true.

However, as the adage goes, “the show must go on." I’ll end this blog with a sage tweet from Adam Proteau of The Hockey News.

When one person in the hockey world dies too soon, we grieve for the family. On a day like today, we're all family.


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George Prax's picture

Great blog Jordan. It's hard to describe the magnitude of what happened yesterday. So many questions left to answer, even beyond simply what happened on that plane yesterday.

Frank Leppar's picture

Indeed, great job - thanks for covering it. I have linked directly to your article on the "Real Time" blog article I was writing when it was happening. Very well written article.

Jordan Kuhns's picture

Thank you both for your kind words. I did what I could.