Teammates of former Ducks player Ruslan Salei are remembering the gritty defenseman, who was among those killed Wednesday afternoon in a plane crash in Russia.
Salei, the Ducks' all-time leader in games played by a defensemen, was flying with his teammates from Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, heading to their Kontinental Hockey League season opener in his native Belarus.
"I still can’t believe it,” Ducks veteran Teemu Selanne told a reporter with the team’s web site. “When I heard the team went down in a plane crash, I was hoping he was hurt or something and wasn’t on the plane. What a sad, sad story. This is a dark day for everyone.”
Salei, 36, who grew to be known as “Rusty” by fans and teammates, was a first-round draft pick of the Mighty Ducks in 1996 and the No. 11 selection overall. He split time between Anaheim and the minors the next season, then became a full-time member of the club from 1997-98 until the end of 2005-06, the year before the Ducks won the Stanley Cup.
He played with Detroit last season and then signed with Lokomotiv, one of the KHL's top teams, in July.
Salei, who kept a home in Orange County with his wife and three children, was teammates with Selanne his first five seasons in the the NHL and again in 2005-06, after Selanne returned for a second stint with the club.
“He was such a great guy, a real team guy, always chirping,” said Selanne. “The kind of guy you really want in your dressing room.”
Salei’s biggest moment as a member of the Ducks was during the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals, when he scored the overtime winner in Game 3 against the New Jersey Devils, helping the Ducks get back into a series they ultimately lost in seven games.
The Ducks also released a statement regarding Salei’s death, saying the organization was “shocked and saddened.”
" 'Rusty' was a fan favorite and dedicated member of the Orange County community since being drafted by Anaheim in 1996. Our thoughts and prayers go to his wife and three children, along with all of the other members of the hockey community affected by this horrible tragedy.”