Sep 082011
 

As sports fans in general (and hockey fans in particular) continue to mourn the tragic plane crash in Russia that claimed 43 lives (including players and coaches from the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl KHL team), many people have named the summer of 2011 as the worst-ever in the history of hockey.  And when you consider the sudden deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak (all within the last four months), it’s hard to disagree.

This latest tragedy affects different people across the world for various reasons.  Canucks fans are fondly remembering Pavol Demitra, who played here for two seasons and had an excellent 2010 Winter Olympics tournament here in Vancouver.  Combined with Rypien’s death last month, Luc Bourdon’s death in 2008, and the death of Taylor Pyatt’s fiancee, Carly, in 2009, it’s been an extremely difficult three-year period for fans on the West Coast. 

The Czech Republic lost 3 ex-NHL players in Jan Marek, Karel Rachunek, and Josef Vasicek.  And both Lokomotiv head coach Brad McCrimmon and the recently-retired Wade Belak were born in the prairie province of Saskatchewan.

But as tragic as these hockey deaths have been, sadly these types of deaths happen every day… just to less famous people.  We see stories and read accounts of people being killed by earthquakes, washed away by tsunamis, and starving to death in Africa.  But for some reason we don’t always give these people the same amount of attention that we do to professional athletes.

Not to mention our own family members and friends who may be suffering from disease, illness, and disability.  They often fight a silent yet noble battle with little to no fanfare.

The truth is, catastrophe and disaster bring people together.  Despair can lead to hope…and we can only hope that tragedy will lead to triumph.

As much as it pained us to see the Vancouver Canucks lose game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, recent events both inside and outside of the sporting world help put things into proper perspective.

Don’t get me wrong:  I’ll still be screaming, cheering, and jumping around like a madman whether I’m at Rogers Arena or in the friendly confines of my living room.

But I hope to do so with the proper perspective.   Because perspective helps us gain an appreciation of the bigger picture and reminds us as to what’s important.

KHL Lokomotiv

Sep 072011
 

In January I wrote that Russian hockey, by forcing domestic players into the KHL, was ensuring the the league could one day approach, if not equal and surpass, the talent level found in the NHL.

Today’s tragic plane crash underscores how that will probably never happen.

In his book “King of Russia: A Year in the Russian Superleague,” Dave King talks at length in about the travels of KHL teams – the tough mining towns, the surrounding poverty and the perilous flights teams took between games. It’s a subject matter he’s commented on again in the wake of the accident.

There’s lots of oil money backing the KHL. None of it is going towards improving the safety, health or post-career experience of its players. (Not that the NHL is totally infalliable on these issues either. As we’ve seen with the deaths of three players this summer, greater off-ice support is something the league and NHLPA need to adopt.) Until that happens, the Russian Superleague will remain more like the Wild Wild West than a professional alternative to the NHL.

*****

The fact that Sidney Crosby’s return to the NHL is indefinite is the second tragedy of the day (albeit the only one with a possible happy ending). The NHL is a much better league with its best player in the lineup. For anyone paying attention though, today’s announcement was expected – there have been too many rumours of setbacks over the last few months.

Today’s announcement should also be lauded. Whereas previous marquee players like Eric Lindros and Pat LaFontaine rushed back time and again from serious concussion, Crosby’s camp understands he is one big hit away from the end of his career. Given the risk, there is no sense rushing him back before he is 100%.

January 1st, 2012 will mark a year since Crosby received his concussion against the Washington Capitals. Don’t be surprised if we don’t see Sid the Kid in the NHL until after New Year’s Day has passed.

Sep 072011
 

I was going to start a series of posts previewing the 2011/2012 Vancouver Canucks today. But in light of this morning’s tragedy in Russia, in which a plane crashed shortly after takeoff, killing members of the KHL team, Lokomotiv, I thought I’d start the series with a look at one of the victims, former Canuck, Pavol Demitra.

What we remember:

Perhaps one of our most lasting memories of Demitra in Vancouver wasn’t his play as a Canuck, but rather his performance at the 2010 Winter Olympics. He represented 9th-ranked Slovakia, which upset Team Sweden in the quarterfinals and came within 20 minutes of a bronze medal finish.

Demo led all scorers in the tournament with 10 points, including a short-handed goal and 2 assists in the second period of the bronze medal game. The night before, with Slovakia down 3-2 and only 10 seconds left in the semifinal game against Team Canada, he had this grand opportunity:

He was named a tournament All-Star, and, invigorated after the Olympics, he returned to play some of his best hockey with the Canucks. In what would prove to be his final games in the NHL, he recorded 12 points (2 goals – 10 assists) in the Canucks’ final 17 regular season games and 6 points (2 goals – 4 assists) in 11 playoff games.

What we expect:

When Mike Gillis took over as Canucks GM, one of his first moves was to sign his former client to a 2-year/$8 million contract. At the time, the Canucks badly needed some secondary scoring. The Sedins were simply point-per-game players, not Art Ross winners, Ryan Kesler was a 20-goal scorer on the 3rd line, and there was no guarantee that UFA Markus Naslund would return. Demitra, at least in his first year as a Canuck, would provide just what the team needed. In 2008/2009, he scored 20 goals and 53 points in 69 games, good for 4th in team scoring that year.

Reality check:

Age and injuries ultimately caught up to Demo. Unfortunately, he suffered a serious shoulder injury during the 2009 playoffs, which then caused him to miss a large part of the 2009/2010 season. Demo was obviously far removed from his seasons of scoring 35+ goals and 75+ points, but if Gillis’ intent in signing him (and Mats Sundin for that matter) was to afford the likes of Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond with another year of development, then it’s hard to critique the move.

He said it:

“When I played with Minnesota and L.A., we played many games in Vancouver and I always loved the atmosphere and everything else about the fans and the city. That was the biggest reason. Another big reason was Mike. We are very close friends and I always like to play hockey for a guy like that.”

- Pavol Demitra after signing with the Canucks in July 2008

RIP Demo. You will be missed. And RIP to everyone who were killed on that flight. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, your families and your loved ones.

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