The Sheet: Reflecting on the KHL crash

I don’t know about you but I feel spent, exhausted and emotionally drained after the most tragic off-season this sport has ever seen.

The plane crash that claimed the lives of 37 hockey players and staff from the KHL team Lokomtiv Yaroslavl just numbed me. Shock, sadness, grief. Our thoughts remain with the families and friends who lost loved ones.

What these tragic events really underlined to me was how, when it comes right down to it, the hockey world is a small community and linked everywhere. As confirmation of the dead trickled out Wednesday afternoon, NHL teams immediately sent out notes of condolences with many teams mourning the loss of one of theirs with many overlapping the same player or coach. If you’re like me at all you’ve probably lost yourself on following players’ travels through their careers, noting former teammates and shared squads.

Wednesday’s events and subsequent mourning notes from across the world of hockey reinforced how everybody has a connection with everybody else in this sport and although hockey may seem small when you think of one player or coach, it’s still everywhere.

On Thursday, Dynamo Minsk players and fans gathered at their home rink to honour those who lost their lives in the crash. It was a heart-breaking, beautiful ceremony that we hope we never have reason to see again.

The Lokomotiv tragedy did once again shine a light on the KHL and what life in Russia paying professional hockey is like.

As a side note, I highly recommend the book “King of Russia” by Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Dave King who spent a season coaching Metallurg Magnitagorsk. The book documents all of it both on and off the ice and the sections about travel are eerie considering the events of Wednesday.

I filled in for Jeff Blair on Sportsnet Radio The FAN 590 on Thursday with Michael Grange and we had a very interesting conversation with NHL and KHL netminder John Grahame who had an absolutely miserable experience in the Russian league. Grahame was a teammate of the late Alexei Cherepanov and watched that tragedy unfold before his eyes in 2008.
Cherepanov’s death, as you can imagine, took a huge emotional toll on the team, sending them on a losing skid.

Anatoly Bardin, Omsk’s general manager, decided the problem was the goalie and had him framed and arrested in order to try to cut him and wiggle out of paying his for the full two seasons he was owed. Grahame had been out for dinner with his head coach Wayne Fleming and upon leaving the restaurant was met by Russian police and escorted promptly to jail. Grahame says it was a set up designed to give Bardin a reason to break the contract.

Have a listen here.

Wednesday’s tragedy brought up thoughts about the fragility of life but also how each year in the hockey industry numerous players face dangerous conditions on an almost nightly basis.

I want to say a word about hockey scouts. I have long maintained they are the most underappreciated and compensated group in hockey and our sport would not be able to exist without them. I’d ask you to take a moment at some point before the season and think about what many of these people go through each and every year to make sure no player goes unnoticed and no stone unturned. There are many nights in the hockey season where the scouts will white knuckle a drive through a snowstorm to watch a player even if only for a single period. They are dealt a yearly hand of icy roads, zero sleep and pots of bad coffee. Have a thought for them the next time you go to a game, because without them the game wouldn’t exist as we know it.

Welcome home:

Great news around the shop at Sportsnet on Thursday as Hall of Famer Scott Morrison was hired as Executive Producer of Hockey. Morrison will handle hockey on all platforms and ensure we’re getting all the stories out on TV, radio, web and magazine. It’s a great hire.

In addition to being both a strong broadcaster and outstanding writer, one of Morrison’s key strengths is running departments. He took the Toronto Sun sports department to tops in its field and in his previous capacity at Sportsnet running both the news and hockey departments he took the company to heights at that point unseen. Looking forward to working again with my partner from Hockey Night in Canada whose now my boss, but as Scott told me yesterday “I’ve always been your boss, just now it’s official.”

This day in Hockey History:

1971: Gordie Howe announced his retirement from the NHL to take a role with the front office of the Detroit Red Wings. Two years later, he was back playing hockey, this time in the WHA with both his sons and the Houston Aeros.

1975: The Rangers trade netminder Curt Ridley to Atlanta for Jerry Byers. Ridley never ended up paying a single game for the Flames, who already had Dan Bouchard and Phil Myre. And come to think of it he had a horrible start to his career. Drafted by Boston he had Gerry Cheevers and Eddie Johnston ahead of him then got claimed by New York in 1973 where Ed Giacomin and Gilles Villemure were the incumbents. He finally found a starting gig in Vancouver, but they were an awful team at that point.

1976: St. Louis signs free agent Rod Seiling from Toronto, who received both cash and the Blues second round pick in 1978, which turned out to be Joel Quenneville. Seiling was an excellent stay-at-home defenceman during his career, which was mainly spent with the Rangers. He retired to manage a harness race track and spent one season coaching the Kitchener Rangers of the OHA. The star blueliner on that team? Paul Coffey.

1982: Toronto brought in goaltender Mike Palmateer from the Washington Capitals. I was 12 years old when “The Popcorn Kid” returned to Toronto. Palmateer was my favourite player growing up and still to this day in Toronto you can hear howls of “Paaaaaaaalmateer” when someone makes a big glove save in road hockey. “Cocky in the Crease” was the headline of a story the Toronto Star once wrote about him, and self-assured he was. Upon being called up to the Leafs in 1976, he famously told GM Jim Gregory “your hunt for a goaltender is over.” Knee injuries plagued Palmateer however, and he didn’t do much to help himself. Once when playing for Washington, Palmateer was in the hospital awaiting knee surgery. The goalie got a frantic call from the Caps as Wayne Stevenson got injured before a game. Palmateer delayed the surgery and took an ambulance to the game and played. In 1984, he opened a hamburger restaurant in Toronto.

1982: Washington Capitals head coach Bryan Murray hired his brother Terry as his assistant, the first time ever a brother combination served behind the bench together in the NHL.

1983: Pittsburgh traded Anders Hakanssen to Los Angeles for the rights to Kevin Stevens whom the Kings had just drafted two months earlier. Um, slight edge in this trade goes to the Pens.

1997: Mario Lemieux, Bryan Trottier, Glen Sather and Philadelphia Flyers voice Gene Hart were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Lemieux was granted immediate passage into the Hall, who waived the normal three-year waiting period. Hart’s daughter, Lauren who sings the anthems at Flyers’ games wears number 68 on her jersey as a tribute to her father who passed away at that age, two years after he entered the Hall as the winner of the Foster Hewitt Award.

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