Tragedy struck the international hockey community on Sept. when a charter carrying Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crashed into the Volga River just seconds after take-off, killing all 37 team members on board, as well as seven of the eight crew members. The team was en route to Minsk for its Kontinental Hockey League season opener.
In total, players and staff from nine countries lost their lives in the disaster, including one Canadian – head coach Brad McCrimmon. The former NHL defenceman, who played 1,222 NHL games with Boston, Philadelphia, Calgary, Detroit, Hartford and Phoenix, was beginning his first season as a head coach in professional after stops as an assistant with the New York Islanders, Flames, Atlanta Thrashers and Red Wings.
The Plenty, Sask., native was no stranger to Team Canada, wearing the Maple Leaf at the 19 IIHF World Junior Championships and helping Canada to its first-ever gold medal at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship as an assistant coach in 2003, when the tournament was held, ironically, in Yaroslavl.
Along with McCrimmon, 43 players, coaches, staff and flight crew lost their lives on Sept. 7, and the hockey community rallied behind Yaroslavl – more than 100,000 people attended a memorial service for the team, and ceremonies were held across Europe and North America to remember those who had perished.
Lokomotiv took a season off from competing in the KHL, but will return to Russia’s top league for the 2012-13 season.
With Canada’s National Junior Team in Yaroslavl for the first two games of the 2012 Canada-Russia Challenge, it took the opportunity, accompanied by Byron McCrimmon, Brad’s father, to visit the ceremony where many of the Lokomotiv players and staff are buried.
The Canada-Russia Challenge is not only a recognition of the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series, it is also a fundraiser; part of the proceeds from the games held in Yaroslavl will go to the families of the victims of the Lokomotiv air tragedy. Canada and Russia have had storied battles on the ice, but the hockey and human worlds comes together in times of tragedy.