September 7, 2012 Leave a comment
One year ago today, an airplane carrying the players, coaches, and training staff of KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crashed immediately after a failed takeoff. Of the 45 people on board, including the pilots and flight staff, 43 were dead on site. One surviving player, Alexander Galimov, died in hospital shortly afterward, leaving crew member Alexander Sizov as the lone survivor from the crash.
There are rare moments when human tragedy or triumph seemingly trumps, temporarily at least, the many problematic aspects of sport. The KHL is a highly political league given its ties to the Vladimir Putin (he has referred to the KHL as “an instrument of Russian foreign policy“) regime and the heavily influence of the Russian oligarchs who made their fortunes preying on the ruins of state run Soviet industry (for example, oil companies Gazprom and Rosneft own KHL teams SKA St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow, respectively). The league is certainly fraught with problems, as, of course, is its North American counterpart the NHL. However, the Lokomotiv tragedy temporarily pushed those concerns aside and united hockey fans across the globe, many of whom had never previously heard of the team, in awe and sorrow.
Many fans in North America found personal connection to the tragedy through the players who had played for their favourite NHL teams before plying their trade in Russia. Names like Brad McCrimmon, Igor Korolev, Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei, and Alexander Karpotsev were immediately familiar to countless NHL fans and gave a known human face to the shocking tragedy. Coming at the end of a summer in which NHLers Rick Rypien, Wade Belak and Derek Boogaard all passed away through suicide or accidental overdose, the Lokomotiv crash carried particular gravitas as the bookend to a summer that shook many fans and members of the hockey community.