The hockey world and the world in general has been struck by multiple tragedies this past summer, the most recent being the horrific plane crash in Russia, almost literally wiping out the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl KHL team. One player, who is in critical condition in Moscow, survived. *Writer’s note…this player sadly succumbed to his injuries, leaving no roster player of this team alive
But Russia wasn’t the only tragedy this summer. NHLers Derek Boogard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak all passed away this past offseason. Reasons why vary; the fact remains, all we have left of these players (who were sons, fathers, wives, and boyfriends) are memories. It will be a summer very few hockey fans will forget.
Nor should we. Part of what makes hockey such a great sport is the undeniable bond that forms between teammates, fans, and cities. The outpouring of emotion in Yaroslavl is the evidence of this. The nature of the memorials for the three fallen enforcers this past summer is proof that hockey players and fans have a unique bond. One only has to look at the massive amount of tweeting from Twitter-using NHLers to see and appreciate the fan/player bond. Even though the player may never ever meet the hundreds of thousands of Twitter readers, it is refreshing to see honest and appreciative responses from players to their fans.
It is this bond that saw Public Enemy #1 in Philadelphia, Mario Lemieux, receive a standing ovation from the Penguin-hating Flyers fans when he returned from cancer in 1993. It is this love for the game that saw Saku Koivu receive applause from almost every arena he returned to after his battle with cancer. There are hundreds of examples. Hockey fans are in love with the sport, and it is that love that allows us to show our emotions in times of great tragedy within the hockey world.
It must be said that these are tragedies that transcend hockey. People have lost their lives, and in that respect, let us keep in perspective that with every player lost, there is real grief and tears being shed, right now as I type this, in the households and circles of each and every person who has lost their life. It is good for us to be shocked. It shows we haven’t been desensitized to death, and recognize that these athletes are human beings. They had been gifted with extraordinary athletic prowess, but they are still human.
It is my hope the NHL, the KHL, and every major junior league these athletes played in pay tribute to these fallen players. These players have given us memories to last a lifetime. Every player has a story. They leave behind a legacy. Whether a player has one fan or thousands, theirs is a story that must never ever be forgotten. The memory of their accomplishments will live on through the fans who have been fortunate enough to see them play.
Regardless of the outcome, regardless of who is found to be at fault…we must never lose sight of what is important. Enjoy the game…enjoy being a player, a fan, or a coach. Life is short. It’s fleeting. Every moment we cherish, let us not forget. Let us never ever forget these players, and the memories they gave us. The best way for these young men to be remembered is through us, the fans. Hockey is supposed to transcend continental boundaries, ethnicity, and background…it unites us. Hockey brings us together, all over the world, as extended family…and now, we must cope with a tragic summer in which several of those extended family members have been taken away.
There will never be any sense of death. There will never be an “aha” moment in which we have it all figured out. Enjoy the memories of these several hockey players…and cherish the time we have with our families and loved ones…for we never know when it might be taken away.