Ex-NHL player, coach McCrimmon dies in crash

Saskatchewan native Brad McCrimmon was among those with an NHL connection killed in the KHL team plane crash that claimed 43 lives in Russia on Wednesday.

Former players Demitra, Salei, Korolev also among the 43 dead

Saskatchewan native Brad McCrimmon was among those with an NHL connection killed in the plane crash that claimed 43 lives on Wednesday.  

The KHL confirmed the death of McCrimmon, 52, who had just taken over as head coach of Lokomotiv in the league.  

The plane was carrying the Lokomotiv ice hockey team from Yaroslavl to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where the team was to play Thursday against Dinamo Minsk in the opening game of the season.  

McCrimmon, of Plenty, Sask., left the Detroit Red Wings at the end of last season, where he had spent three seasons as an assistant coach under Mike Babcock. He had held similar positions with Atlanta, Calgary and the New York Islanders. He also coached Saskatoon in the Western Hockey League in the late 1990s.

"The Western Hockey League and Brandon Wheat Kings are devastated by the tragic loss of Brad McCrimmon and members of the KHL Lokomotiv Yaroslavl Hockey Club," WHL commissioner Ron Robison said in a statement released by the league. "Brad was not only one of the greatest players in WHL history, he was a great leader who had a major impact on every team he was associated with.

"Our thoughts and prayers along with our deepest sympathy are extended to Brad's wife Maureen and their children Carlin and Liam, the McCrimmon family, his friends and former teammates during this very difficult time."  

McCrimmon was a steady defenceman for nearly two decades, entering the NHL in 1979-80 with Boston after a Memorial Cup appearance with the Brandon Wheat Kings, and retiring after a stint with Phoenix in 1996-97.  

He played 1,222 NHL games, with 81 goals, 322 assists and 1,416 penalty minutes.  

After playing on two Philadelphia teams that lost in the Stanley Cup final in the 1980s, McCrimmon was able to hoist the cherished trophy with Calgary in 1989.  

McCrimmon answered the call as a replacement when a series of high-profile defencemen opted not play in the 1987 Canada Cup or were injured.

Several NHL clubs, as well as the WHL, released statements remembering McCrimmon and expressing condolences to his family.

"Brad was a true representative of the Flames organization," said the Flames statement. "His leadership, hard work, character and love for his family, teammates, his community and the game of hockey were evident in his daily life. Our thoughts and prayers are with Brad and his family and the families of all those who lost their loved ones in this terrible accident."

He is survived by a wife and two children.

Among the other players on the team with significant NHL history:

Pavol Demitra, 36

The former NHL centre was entering his second season with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv following a 61-point campaign in 2010-11. Demitra broke into the NHL in 1993 with Ottawa, which drafted him in the ninth round that year. He also played with St. Louis, Los Angeles, Minnesota and Vancouver, his final stop in 2009-10.

A native of Slovakia, Demitra is said to have had an infectious energy with the ability to bring people together. He finished his NHL career with 304 goals and 768 points in 847 regular-season games. He leaves behind a wife and two young children.

Alexander Karpovtsev, 41

The Moscow native and former NHL defenceman was an assistant coach with Lokomotiv. He also played with the club, posting six points in 33 games during the NHL lockout in 2004-05.

A veteran of 12 NHL seasons, Karpovtsev enjoyed his most productive season in 1996-97 with the New York Rangers, recording nine goals and 38 points in 77 games. Karpovtsev was an eighth-round draft pick of the Quebec Nordiques in 1990 and later played two seasons with Toronto and four with Chicago before ending his NHL career with the New York Islanders in 2004.

Igor Korolev, 41

The former Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs centre was an assistant coach with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv. The Moscow native also had two stints with the team as a player in 2004-05 and 2009-10.

Korolev played 13 seasons in the NHL for four teams, entering the league with St. Louis in 1992 and ending his NHL playing career with Chicago in ’04. A second-round pick of the Blues in ’92, Korolev scored 119 goals and 346 points in 795 regular-season games.

Karel Rachunek, 32

The Czech Republic embassy confirmed the death of Rachunek, who was there when the Ottawa Senators began to turn the corner from being NHL doormats to contenders. He played 244 regular season games for the Sens beginning in 1999-00, and was a steady presence when the club reached their first Eastern Conference final in 2003. 

He went on to play for the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, but decided to head to the KHL upon its inception in 2008.  

Ruslan Salei, 36 

A native of Minsk, Belarus, Salei returned to Russia this season after drawing little interest as a free agent, despite a strong playoff partnering with Niklas Kronwall on the Detroit Red Wings blue-line. 

Salei was the Anaheim Ducks’ first-round pick in 1996 (ninth overall) and broke into the NHL that season. He played 917 regular-season games with the Ducks, Red Wings, Florida and Colorado, posting 204 points including a career-high 32 points in 2006-07 with the Panthers.

He left a wife and three children, according to the Ducks.

Karlis Skrastins, 37

The Dallas Stars released a statement mourning the loss of one of their recent defencemen.   There were only 28 players selected after Skrastins in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. Nashville took the Riga, Latvia native with the 230th pick, in the ninth round.   The six-foot-one blue-liner was known for his grit and durability in 832 career NHL games, at one point in his career playing in five consecutive seasons without injury. After Nashville he moved on to Colorado, Florida and Dallas. He appeared in 74 games for the Stars in 2010-11, signing with the KHL this summer.  

Josef Vasicek, 30 

The Hurricanes confirmed the death of their former player in a statement.

The Czech Republic centre was entering his fourth season with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, with whom he scored 24 goals and 55 points in 54 contests in 2010-11. Vasicek had 77 goals and 183 points in 460 NHL regular-season games. 

He was a fourth-round pick of Carolina in 1998 and entered the league with the Hurricanes in 2000. Vasicek, who has his name on the Stanley Cup for the team’s victory in 2006, also played part of one season with Nashville and a full campaign with the New York Islanders in 2007-08 before joining Lokomotiv.

He would have turned 31 on Sept. 12.