One year ago today, a tragic plane crash killed all but two members of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team and coaching staff, as well as four members of the team’s junior affiliate and seven crew members. While our hearts mourned for all of those felled in this heartrending accident, the Avalanche family was hit particularly hard by the deaths of former players Karlis Skrastins and Ruslan Salei.
Skrastins came to the Avalanche via trade from the Nashville Predators during the 2003 offseason. He would go on to play 275 games in the Avalanche sweater through the course of four seasons. During that time, he scored nine goals, and amassed 42 points. While Skrastins was not known as an offensive dynamo, he brought to the team a rugged toughness, and a shutdown style of play that often proves elusive to find. He was nicknamed “Ironman”, in large part due to his NHL record of “longest playing game streak for a NHL defenceman.” This record broke the previous one, of 486 games, set by Tim Horton, and it was set during his tenure with the Avs. The streak ended at 495 games, when he suffered a shoulder injury. Interestingly enough, he was traded for none other than Ruslan Salei in 2008. His death, at the age on 37, came far too soon. He was taken from his loving wife and three daughters, one of whom was unborn at the time of his death.
Ruslan Salei was traded to the Avalanche in 2008, during his 10th NHL season. The stalwart defender spent three seasons in Colorado, playing in 101 games. He earned 34 points during those 101 games, and 105 PIM. Salei played in many international games for his country, Belarus. Competing in nine World Championships, and three Olympic Games, he played in 63 games at the highest levels of international competition. He too, was taken from his wife, son, and two daughters far too soon.
The Avalanche organization grieved, and commemorated both Skrastins and Salei (along with Wade Belak, a former player who also died last summer) with a decal on the players’ helmets. However, this event found Semyon Varlamov more heartbroken than most of his teammates. Lokomotiv was the team he had played for before entering the NHL. There had been speculation that he would return to play there when negotiations with the Capitals turned sour. Once the Caps traded his rights to the Avalanche, he immediately chose to stay in the NHL. Two months later, he was hit with the news that everyone he knew from the team was gone. While Varlamov did his best to play strong for both the team and his fallen comrades, there were undeniably struggles throughout the season.
So, today, we remember. We remember those we lost. Here’s to you, Lokomotiv. Today, we take time to honor the 44 lives that ended, and the innumerable others affected.