Saturday, September 10, 2011

Lokomotiv, Memory Eternal

Last Wednesday I got to work a few minutes earlier than normal, and decided to catch a glimpse of the news before my daily 7:30am meeting.

I wish I hadn't.

Forty-five people had been in a plane crash in Russia, including the entire Russian KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Details were sketchy, but it appeared (correctly) that virtually the entire team was lost. There would mercifully be two survivors, both of whom are currently in medically-induced comas with severe burns.

No life should be valued more than others, but some of the names of the dead were instantly recognizable to me.

Pavol Demitra. Ruslan Salei. Karlis Skrastins. Josef Vasicek. Daniil Sobchenko, who was drafted this year by the San Jose Sharks.

It was all I could muster to keep myself from losing it in front of my students that morning.

Karlis Skrastins, #37, playing in Dallas against San Jose in Dec. 2009

It didn't matter to me that the former three once played for some of the teams I hate most in the NHL. These weren't exactly my heroes, but neither were they absolute strangers or (worse) absolute villains.

They were family men, playing for a sport that we mutually adored. The oldest of the players was two years shy of 40. Four of them, including Sobchenko, weren't old enough to drink legally in the United States.

Ruslan Salei (#24), playing in Detroit against the San Jose Sharks in February 2011.

Coming right on the heels of the back-to-back suicides of two NHL pugilists (Rick Rypien on August 15, and Wade Belak on August 31), and less than four months after the accidental overdose of Derek Boogaard, the Lokomotiv tragedy took our hockey off-season to another level of despair.

Wade Belak in Nashville, vs. San Jose in February 2010

But in that despair, there was something hauntingly beautiful = the hockey world coming together, putting aside national differences and team rivalries, and consoling one another in our collective loss. USA vs. Russia, Sharks vs. Red Wings - it didn't matter any more. A loss for one is a loss for all.

Hockey is the brotherhood that binds.

Requiescat in pace, Lokomotiv and B-R-B. You are gone but not forgotten. As is said in Russia and the Orthodox lands, MEMORY ETERNAL.

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