I'm going to keep this one short.
I just wanted to pay my respects to the players that the NHL and the hockey world have lost this summer. Three enforcers have lost their lives. Derek Boogaard, 28, Rick Rypien, 27, and Wade Belak, 35.
Earlier today, the hockey world suffered another terrible tragedy with the plane crash of the Russian KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, which killed 43 people and injured 2 more. Among those killed were former Avalanche players Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins. Both of whom I met when they played here in Colorado. Skrastins, I met during Avs training camp one year. He came off the ice and I opened the door for him. He said "thanks" and he must have been hungry because he came back with a Powerbar a few minutes later. During his time with the Avs, Skrastins earned the nickname, Iron Man, by passing the all-time consecutive games played streak for a defenseman. The record was previously held by Tim Horton, another player who died tragically before his time.
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Avs' annual Meet-the-Team event in 2009, for season ticket holders. Among the many players I met, was Ruslan Salei. He was playing air hockey against fans. Right before me, there was a little boy who was probably about 3. He could barely see over the table. Salei graciously let him win and took several pictures with the boy afterward. The boy was elated. You could tell that Salei just made the kid's day! The way he interacted with that kid was better than many dad are with their own kids, sadly. He wasn't so generous to me. He got off to a 5-0 lead and quipped about whether or not I would score a goal at all. The game ended 7-2. I saw him again later during the autograph sessions and he remembered me, and made another joke about my lack of air hockey skills. I told him that I had beaten Scott Hannan after I played him. Anyway, he seemed like a very down-to-earth, nice guy. The kind of guy you could sit and have a beer with and watch a game and talk sports. Matt Duchene recently tweeted, "So saddened by the news of the Russian plane crash. Mixed reports on whether former teammate R. Salei was on it or not, I'm praying he wasn't" Unfortunately, it has since been confirmed that Salei was in fact on board.
Salei had a wife, Bethann and three kids, Alexis, 5, Aleksandro, 3, and Ava, who was just born last March. Skrastins had a wife, Zane and two daughters, Karolina and Laurena. Also among the deceased was former NHL All-Star Pavol Demitra. My thoughts and prayers are certainly with the families of the players and personnel on the plane.
Of course, we are also a few days away from the 10th anniversary of 9/11, one of the darkest days of U.S. history. On one of the flights were LA Kings scouts, Garnet “Ace” Bailey and Mark Bavis.
Very tragic indeed.