A Year Removed from Lokomotiv

A year ago, September 7, 2011, a YAK-42 airplane carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all members of the team and coaching staff. The hockey world was shocked, and Rene Fasel, president of the IIHF, called it the darkest day in hockey history.

We were all rocked hard to our cores. Contracts meant nothing. We now knew that several players that we knew and loved had passed away in an instant. Pavol Demitra, Stefan Liv, Jan Marek, Karel Rachunek, Ruslan Salei, Karlis Skrastins, Josef Vasicek and Alexander Yasyunov were most known for their service in the NHL.

Brad McCrimmon, longtime NHL defenseman and new coach of Lokomotiv, died before being behind the bench for his first game against Dynamo Minsk in Belarus. The KHL scheduled a memorial for the team just a few days after. It didn’t matter that the people spoke Russian. That service transcended language. We knew its gravity.

In the past year, I always said the write-up I did on the Lokomotiv tragedy remains the hardest article I’ve ever written. Still stands that way today.

In the wake of all of this, it shook me up in how I look at the game of hockey. Contract length, and how much money a player makes, mean nothing to me anymore. I don’t gauge a player on how much money he makes. I gauge a player on the character he demonstrates; in the hard work he exhibits to be the best on and off the ice. Hockey players are never perfect, but they can at least try. That’s what matters to me.

I remember when Jody Shelley signed with the Flyers a few years ago. $1.1 million per year over three years for a guy who will play just a few minutes a night and drop the mitts? “Is Shelley really worth that?” That was how I used to think. The more I saw Shelley take his limited ice time as a blessing, just to play this game, and be a consummate professional, the more it made all the difference to me.

While the big suits continue to bicker on about how the big dollars will be distributed between the players and the owners, we wait to watch our favorite people play the game they have trained so hard to play. Many players have received the big payday like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, among others. Does their contract really dictate their real “worth” to hockey, and to us?

If anything, the Lokomotiv tragedy should reteach us that these people are indeed people with lives, families, and more importantly, children. These hockey players were denied their future with their families and their children. 

Words still fall short of describing the magnitude of this disaster and its effects on the realm of hockey as it stands. Many players, organizations and fans have shown that they still grieve on this day, one year after the disaster. An article by ESPN's Craig Custance showcases the new life that the McCrimmon family must live without Brad.

Let's hope hockey comes back. The people playing deserve to play out their dreams.

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