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Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Tight-knit hockey world shocked by crash

By Pierre LeBrun


Few sports are more tight-knit and interwoven than hockey. Players, coaches, GMs and scouts travel the same rinks from one corner of the world to another and, at some point in time, cross paths.

Which is why when word spread about Wednesday's tragic event, it hit close to home for so many in the hockey world.

So many in the sport had a connection to at least one of the victims in Wednesday's tragic plane crash that killed members of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl KHL club.

Brad McCrimmon
Brad McCrimmon was among the 43 people who died in Wednesday's plane crash.

"This affects the entire hockey community," Red Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "It's a real sad day for the hockey world."

Holland lost a former Wings player and assistant coach in Brad McCrimmon, who coached the Lokomotiv squad, as well as defenseman Ruslan Salei, who played in Detroit last season.

McCrimmon went to Russia to follow his dream of being a head coach. Before making his way to Russia this offseason, he sought advice from former Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Barry Smith. Smith, now head coach of Lugano in Switzerland, coached in Russia for many years.

"Brad wanted to know what to expect in Russia, and I mentioned to him how difficult travel was because of all the time zones," Smith told ESPN.com from Switzerland on Wednesday. "Brad was really excited about the opportunity to be a head coach. It's really sad."

Smith said he was sure he traveled on the same type of Yak-42 jet that crashed Wednesday, but he was clear in not wanting to point the finger at the KHL.

"I never felt unsafe or threatened while working in St. Petersburg," Smith said. "The travel was very difficult, and the time-zone changes were a nightmare. The airplane I flew for three seasons was the same one which crashed. The pilots we had were amazing; we landed on every kind of tarmac there was. Everyone is tremendously saddened by today's crash, and we send our prayers and condolences to all the families."

McCrimmon was a terrific, two-way defenseman and a Cup champion in 1989 with the Calgary Flames.

"I remember first playing with him at the 1978 world juniors on Team Canada," Wayne Gretzky told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "I remember thinking he was such a good player. We became good friends. [He was] just a really good person and all-around nice guy. This is really tragic for his family and everyone who knew him."

McCrimmon made a smooth transition behind the bench, where he was liked by his players.

"I've known Brad going back to the late '80s when we acquired him here," Holland said. "He was a real popular player. Then we had him as an assistant coach here. He loved hockey. He was a tremendous guy and wonderful family man. Our thoughts and prayers go to his wife, Maureen, and two children."

Alexander Karpovtsev was also among the victims. He played his best hockey with the New York Rangers, winning a Stanley Cup with the club in 1994.

"He was a really, really solid defenseman," Gretzky said of his former Rangers teammate. "When he put his mind to it, he was one of those top-echelon guys that was hard to play against defensively. He had a pretty good shot and moved the puck pretty well."

Every player and coach on the flight had a story. They all had ties around the hockey world. They all will be missed.

"Something like this is so tragic," Gretzky said. "We're fortunate given all the teams that travel worldwide that we haven't had more tragedies like this, and hopefully it'll be more than 100 years before it happens again."