Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Martin Krantz on 09/08/11 at 06:40 AM ET
Like everyone else here at Kuklaskorner, I wish I had something of a lighter nature to talk about today. This summer has been filled with death, and having to write another post about former players passing away so soon after my Wade Belak post is extra tough. I hoped that would be the only piece I’d have to write about a player death in a good long while. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find myself by my computer ten days later, trying to find another way to put my thoughts into words about a tragedy that has stunned the entire hockey world. But here goes.
I remember when princess Diana died, and where I was at the time. I was sitting in my younger brothers room, playing NHL 96 on SNES, when my father came in and said “turn it off and check the news, there’s been an accident and you need to see this”.
I also remember where I was when I heard that Michael Jackson had died. In bed, sleeping. My girlfriend who had just left for work called me and woke me up with the news.
The same will be true of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash. For the rest of my life, I will never forget where I was at the time, and I will carry the memory of it with me for the rest of my life. This time, I was working a comedy club in northern Sweden as one of the other comedians came in and told us that there had been a horrible plane crash in Russia, and that the swedish goaltender Stefan Liv was most likely among the passengers. I was horrified - Stefan Liv was one of the best guys in swedish hockey, and we were about the same age. He leaves behind a wife, Anna, and two young boys. Since we were the same age, I had watched Stefan Liv from his breakthrough in the SEL, and remembered the first interview with him I ever watched. He had just stolen the starting job as goaltender for HV 71, but the interview was more about his interest in stealing a driver’s license. He had failed the driving test four times, and was uncertain if he’d ever get his certificate. He had this calm aura and wry sense of humour when he described how he’d gone the wrong way in a roundabout, and it had become known as doing a “Stefan Liv”. Even though he didn’t play on my team, the Frolunda Indians, you always respected and liked Stefan Liv.
Then I hit the stage, did 30 minutes of comedy and got called back on stage for an encore. It’s the other side to being a comedian. Awesome when you’re in the mood for comedy, but every once in a while you have to do a show like this. The day after my ex girlfriend broke up with me, I went on stage and did a show. Within days of my best friend’s death, I was back on the stage doing comedy. I remember a good female friend whose brother passed away, and within days she was back on stage doing comedy. The audience couldn’t tell, but I heard her voice crack at times.
Once I got backstage, I pulled out my iphone and went online to find a list of the players who had passed away.
I was saddened to see that there were two former Avalanche players on the roster of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl - Karlis Skrastins and Ruslan Salei. That’s when I knew what was ahead of me, and that I’d have to get back home and start writing another one of these horrible blog posts. I would still have wanted to express my condolences and my sympathy in some way, but it became an immediate necessity to do so as the Avalanche blogger here at Kukla’s Korner. But I think we can all agree that our grief today is not for a special player from a special team, but for everyone one of those players on the plane, and their relatives, family, friends and children. Today is a day where you put aside your allegiances to your team or to “your” player and mourn with the rest of the hockey worls as one entity.
I got the chance to follow Pavol Demitra nearly since the very beginning of his career, as he played his first games in the NHL in 93-94, when I started collecting hockey cards and following the NHL more closely. He played for the Ottawa Senators, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks. Karel Rachunek played for the Senators, Rangers and Devils. Skrastins for the Predators, Avalanche, Panthers and Stars. Salei was with the Ducks, Avalanche, Panthers and Red Wings. Stefan Liv was drafted by the Red Wings. In the end, this catastrophy isn’t a one-or-two team deal like the deaths of Boogard, Rypien and Belak. This is truly a hockey world in mourning for their lost sons.
Ruslan Salei was great after joining the team at the trade deadline in 2007-2008. While he couldn’t keep up the same level of the play the following seasons, he was always respected for his work ethic. Karlis Skrastins was one of my personal favourites on the Avalanche - he played four seasons with the team and became known as “Iron Man” because of his durability. He set a new record for consecutive games by a defenceman with 495 games.
And, for once, the Avalanche’s media department came out of their slumber (they spent their summer posting pictures of Bernie the Mascot planking on different objects) and released the following statement.
“The entire Colorado Avalanche organization is deeply saddened by this morning’s horrific news regarding the Kontinental Hockey League’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl,” said President Pierre Lacroix.
“Moreover, we are all in a state of shock regarding the deaths of former Avalanche defensemen Karlis Skrastins and Ruslan Salei. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families as well as those involved in this devastating incident.”
“I am still in disbelief about today’s tragic news,” said Executive Advisor/Alternate Governor Joe Sakic. “Both Karlis and Ruslan were unbelievable individuals and great teammates. They will be sorely missed. My condolences go out to their families and all those affected in this tragedy.”
Skrastins spent four seasons with the Avalanche, appearing in 275 regular season games from 2003-2004 to 2007-2008. He set an NHL record of 495 consecutive games played by a defenseman, while playing for the organization.
Salei spent three seasons with the Avalanche, appearing in 101 regular season games from 2007-2008 to 2009-2010.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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