Just When You Thought This Summer Couldn’t Possibly Get Any Worse for Hockey

Posted: September 8, 2011 in Flyers

So far, this has been arguably the worst off-season the National Hockey League has ever experienced.

On May 13, 2011 New York Rangers (and former Minnesota Wild) enforcer Derek Boogaard was found dead in his Minneapolis, Minnesota apartment by members of his family. He was 28 years old. Boogaard’s sudden and shocking death, especially at the young age of 28, brought about concerns for former players with a history of head injuries. Boogaard’s death was determined to be the result of an accidental (though fatal) mix of alcohol and oxycodone.

A little over three months later, on August 15, 2011,  Vancouver Canucks center Rick Rypien was found dead in his Crowsnest Pass, Alberta home. Rypien was 27 years old. This was the second death of a young NHL enforcer who has had a history of head injuries. Rypien’s death was later determined to be a suicide, and he had reportedly been battling depression for over 10 years.

Just 16 days after Rick Rypien’s death, on August 31, 2011, retired NHL enforcer Wade Belak was found dead in a condo of a Toronto hotel. He was 35 years old. According to Belak’s mother, he had been battling depression at the time of his death. NHL players and fans alike found themselves mourning yet another player gone way too soon.

In the span of four months, three NHL players (Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak) had died. To say the least, this string of tragic deaths had already cast a dark cloud over the National Hockey League (and the sport of hockey for that matter)

Then, when it seemed like there was no way things could possibly get any worse, news broke this morning of the tragedy involving Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).

The team took off from Yaroslavl en route to Minsk, Belarus to play their season opener, when their plane caught fire and crashed shortly after take off. All but two (Defenseman Alexander Galimov, and Flight Engineer Alexander Sizov) perished aboard the flight.

Center Pavol Demitra, Defenseman Ruslan Salei, and Head Coach Brad McCrimmon were among the notable former NHL players who perished.

Demitra, who was originally drafted by the Ottawa Senators (and widely considered one of the biggest draft steals in NHL history), spent the better part of 16 seasons in the NHL, playing for the Senators, and also the St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, and Vancouver Canucks, before joining Lokomitiv last year.

Salei was perhaps best known for his 10 year stint with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, where he gained popularity among Ducks fans. He also played for the Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, and Detroit Red Wings,

McCrimmon spent 6 seasons in Philadelphia where he, along  Mark Howe, was a member of one of the greatest defensman tandems in Flyers history. He also played for the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Hartford Whalers, and Phoenix Coyotes, before retiring in 1997. That same year, his coaching career began (as an assistant coach). He left his job as an assistant coach for the Red Wings last season to take over as Lokomotiv head coach starting with the 2011-2012 season.

This is quite possibly the worst tragedy the NHL (or the sport of hockey for that matter) has ever experienced. As an avid NHL fan myself I am having a hard time trying to find the words to describe this. I have likened this to the 1970 plane crash that killed nearly the entire Marshall Thundering Herd football team. It will take a tremendous effort to rebuild the team, but it can be done.

On September 12, 2011 (five days after the crash), right wing Alexander Galimov, one of the two survivors of the crash, died as a result of the injuries sustained in the crash. He was 26 years old.

My hope is that this is the last tragedy that the National Hockey League, and the entire hockey world, has to go through. First, three players die in the span of four months. Now, an entire team (save for one player) goes down in flames on their way to their season opening game.

This has truly been an awful summer for hockey. Hopefully, things can only get better from here.

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