Just when we thought it could get no worse, we found we hadn’t even hit rock bottom yet.
The hockey world was rocked by another tragedy on Sept. 7 when a private jet carrying the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) team, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, crashed shortly after takeoff.
The damages are absolutely gut wrenching: 43 people in all were killed of the 45 on board. Seven flight crewmembers and 36 Lokomotiv team members (players, coaches, team officials) in all lost their lives while two more people remain in critical condition after surviving the crash.
In what has to be one of the biggest disasters and worst aviation accidents in sports history, the crash has left the international hockey community reeling trying to come to terms with this latest accident.
The accident in Russia has seen its ripple effects felt throughout the hockey community and saw names many hockey fans knew from their time spent in the NHL. Names like Pavol Demitra, Karlis Skrastins, Ruslan Salei and Josef Vasicek were all included in the long list of people taken suddenly and far too soon.
In a game such as hockey, the turnover of rosters from season to season means players and coaches become very intricately interwoven. Bonds are made with many players and so many people become connected from their travels from the various teams and leagues. This makes it even harder to bear for the tight-knit fraternity of players who can make connections to the victims of Lokomotiv.
The plane crash comes on back end of a trio shocking deaths that all started back on May 13 when Derek Boogaard died from an accidental mix of painkillers and alcohol. The 28-year-old enforcer who had split time between the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers in his six seasons in the NHL was once one of the most intimidating players featured in the NHL.
On Aug. 15, we learned of another passing in the form of Rick Rypien. Best known as a pest on the ice for the Vancouver Canucks for his six-year career, Rypien had just signed to play with the Winnipeg Jets before he took his own life. The 27-year-old had said to be battling depression for more than a decade at the time of his death.
The bad news kept coming when Wade Belak, a15 year veteran of the NHL, was found dead in his condo in Toronto on Aug. 31. The cause of death is still not yet known though it was confirmed that he too had been suffering from depression. Belak, an enforcer who had spent time on five different NHL squads was only 35 years old when he passed.
The interesting and perhaps alarming connection is that all these three players were enforcers and all three suffered brain trauma. Their roles of protecting their teammates, which made them team and fan favorites, may have also become their reason for fighting the likes of depression and drugs and alcohol.
While this string of unnerving deaths and accidents have many questions that remain unanswered as to how all of these accidents transpired and what is the cause for all of them. The one truth that is clear that this has to be the darkest summer for the sport of hockey.
How does hockey recover from this? The wounds of this summer are not going to heal anytime soon as the there will be constant reminders for both the fans and the players themselves throughout the various arenas.
As NHL training camp starts within the week, the NHL and its ambassadors will be more tight-knit as ever as they look to remember their departed brothers and look towards just getting back on the ice and playing the game that was their common bond.