What an absolutely hideous off-season it has been for the NHL. Enough already with players passing away.
Derek Boogaard has an accidental overdose in May. Rick Rypien commits suicide in August. Wade Belak also commits suicide two weeks after Rypien. Three horrible tragedies and losses highlighting the need for better substance abuse programs and mental health programs in the NHL.
And now a fatal, fiery plane crash in Russia killing all but two on board. The entire Lokomotiv team from the KHL hockey league, as well as four of their youth players, in addition to coaching staff and plane crew. The entire team.
Among the deaths were Ruslan Salei, who was drafted by the Ducks in 1996 and played in Anaheim for nearly 10 years. He was one of the crucial parts of the Ducks during their unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003. Salei scored the overtime game winner in game three that put the Ducks right back in the series. Salei also was instrumental in helping the Belarussian Olympic team defeat the Swedish team in 2002 in the quarterfinals. It was a true David and Goliath moment for the Belarussian team.
Salei admitted he had learned English when playing for a minor league team in Las Vegas. He spent plenty of time at his hotel watching American soap operas.
The Ducks issued an official statement this afternoon:
“The Anaheim Ducks organization is shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of Ruslan Salei. ‘Rusty’ was a fan favorite and dedicated member of the Orange County community since being drafted by Anaheim in 1996. Our thoughts and prayers go to his wife and three children, along with all of the other members of the hockey community affected by this horrible tragedy.”
Other NHL players in the crash were Pavol Demitra, a former Los Angeles King, Karlis Skrastins, Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek, Jan Marek, Alexander Vasyunov and goaltender Stefan Liv. Coach Brad McCrimmon, who was an assistant to the Detroit Red Wings last season, also perished.
The team was on its way to Minsk for a game and the plane crashed almost immediately after takeoff. The only two survivors were one player, Alexander Galisov, and a crew member. Both suffered severe burns and are in very critical condition.
“Though it occurred thousands of miles away from our home arenas, this tragedy represents a catastrophic loss to the hockey world — including the NHL family, which lost so many fathers, sons, teammates and friends,” was the statement that came from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
In a hockey world that has already lost too many this year, to lose so many more at one time is beyond devastating. Prayers go out to all the families and loved ones involved.
May there be no further tragedies to read about and report upon.