Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Bear with the Ax (Tragedy in the Golden Ring)

One year and two weeks ago, I was in Yaroslavl.

It's a beautiful place, one of the golden ring cities outside of Mockba, and almost exactly a year ago they celebrated their 1000th anniversary as a city.

Today their KHL team, локомотив, was involved in a horrifying plane crash.  43 confirmed dead, 2 in critical-not-likely-to-survive condition.  The team included notable players from a half-dozen countries, many well-known from their days with the NHL.  Their coach was a former Assistant Coach to the Red Wings.  I'm not being deliberately coy of the identities of those involved, but there are already plenty of lists of the dead circulating.  There's no point in my echoing them.

For those on the outside, it's hard to describe the way that hockey really *is* a small and tightly knit community.  There are roughly 500,000 players registered above the 49th parallel & another 500K below.  Players often start at the age of 3-4, traveling more as skill levels increase and making friends along the way.  Some players cross oceans to attend summer training programs or join Junior teams that will give them the best chances at furthering a career.  Again, friends are made.

Professional players are consistently involved in local communities, to the point where the NHL uses philanthropy as a marketing slogan ("The Biggest Assist is Off the Ice").  Captains and coaches are well known faces and influences, and children involved in the hockey community draw their heroes from the sport have a wide variety of options.  An encounter with a player - especially a favored player - is a brush with greatness, and those are memories that don't fade.  It's hard to forget someone you idolized at five or ten or even fifteen.  If you live in an NHL or AHL or ECHL town, coaches and general managers and front office staff play at your local rinks and their children play at your local rinks.

The point I'm getting at here, rather roundabout as the journey may be, is that all of us in the community are touched by today's events.  We cheer for players who lost friends and former teammates.  We ourselves lost role models and national symbols.  If you're in the hockey community, there was a friend-of-a-friend on that plane.

This is why the tragedy strikes so hard, I think.  Because when everybody knows everybody, there are no strangers.

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