September 7th, 2011, the hockey world endured the most heart wrenching event in its sport’s history. The players on theLokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team were all taken away from us in an instant. A plane carrying the entire KHL team and staff came crashing down, after take off, and all perished as a result.
Their season was suppose to start after that flight and, instead, their lives abruptly came to an end.
All 43 individuals on that plane were robbed of their lives.
The men on that plane weren’t just hockey players. The men who filled the seats on that plane were flourishing and talented youth, devoted and loving fathers, role models, dedicated sons, and so much more; all of whom tragically left their loved ones. It’s hard to even fathom and wrap your head around such a devastating event of this magnitude and even a year later it feels surreal.
In that crash were several veteran NHL players who decided to become part of that team and were suppose to begin their first season. Pavol Demitra, Brian McCrimmon, Josef Vasicek, Karlis Skrastins, Karel Rachunek,Alexander Karpovtsev, Igor Korolev, and lastly Ruslan Salei.
Most of us remember “Rusty”, Ruslan Salei, as an Anaheim Duck; afterall, he was drafted by the team in 1997 and spent the next nine season with them. He was a part of the Mighty Duck era and a huge part of the Stanley Cup final run in 2003. His contagious smile, Tony Soprano-like accent, his personable personality and toughness on the ice was what gravitated us to him and, ultimately, love him. He was certainly a fan favorite; one who I will never forget as a Mighty Duck.
It was said by Ducks’ media director, Alex Gilchrist:
“He was hoping to play another year or two and come back and become part of the alumni organization. He was one of those guys who would reach out and call every summer just to say hello and see how everyone was doing.
While it is unfortunate that the Ducks didn’t get the honor of having Ruslan Salei in their alumni organization, it is his family and friends, who he left behind, who will forever have a void in their lives in the wake of his passing.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting Ruslan on a couple of occasions during his stay in Anaheim. And I’m sure that I can speak for the majority of Ducks fans when I say that I am grateful that I got to watch him play, to converse with him after games and most of all say that he was a Mighty Duck. Ruslan Salei left behind a wife and three children; all under the age of eight.
May Ruslan Salei’s legace live on in Ducks’ history and all of the loved ones involved in this event, are able to move on, remember, but never forget.