Colorado Avalanche: Remembering Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins
Today, the hockey community experienced one of the worst tragedies in the history of the sport.
A Russian Yak-42 passenger jet carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team of the KHL crashed shortly after takeoff while en route to the team's season-opening games, as reported by the Associated Press.
While the lives of each and every one of the people flying on that plane are equally important, the catastrophe hits home when you have a relationship with one of those lost.
For most of us fans, the extent of our relationship with Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins went no further than being one of the players we saw on TV or in person while watching Avalanche games.
For others, including players, coaches and media who spoke with the defensemen on a daily basis, the relationship was much more personal.
That is what makes it so hard to get past an event like this. It changes lives permanently and reminds us just how fragile life is.
Hockey may be the best sport on the planet, but at the end of the day, after the ice is resurfaced, the lights are turned off and the arena sits empty, these players are people just like you and me.
In honor of the former players who were lost today, let's take a look at some of their most memorable moments on the ice.
Salei Scores Game Winner in Game 3 of 2003 Stanley Cup Finals
In 2003, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history. The team was down two games to none, with the series returning to Southern California from New Jersey.
After the teams were unable to reach a conclusion through regulation, overtime ensued. And seven minutes into the extra frame, Salei provided the heroics his team needed.
Skrastins Makes a Miraculous Diving Save for the Stars
The first time I saw this video, I thought there was an error in the title.
When Rangers forward Erik Christensen got Marty Turco to bite on a play fake, I thought there was no way the puck would miss the net.
But then Skrastins showed just why he was one of the more underrated defensemen in the game.
Flying in from the slot, he calmly laid his stick down and prevented a goal.
Sure, Christensen could have lifted the puck and scored easily, but the fact of the matter is that Skrastins hustled back and was rewarded with an incredible play.
Salei Breaks a Tie vs. the Red Wings
Pardon the low quality of the video.
The reason I included it is because the play looked so pretty.
The Wings were running into each other around their net, trying to get the puck. It seemed as though they were all stuck in their skates when the puck was passed out to the point.
All they could do was stand and watch as Salei fired a wrister into the back of the net.
Skrastins Breaks the Iron Man Record
On February 21, 2000, Karlis Skrastins played in his 487th-consecutive NHL game.
That was one more than the current record at the time of 486, set by Tim Horton.
Owning the NHL's iron-man streak is one of the most bad-ass things a player can do. Sure, you can fight or lay down a big hit, but when you consider the physical toll that players take in each game, the numbers above seem unreal.
Skrastins' streak stood at 495 until March of this year, when Jay Bouwmeester surpassed it with 496.
Salei's Last Goal
This was Salei's only point of the 2011 playoffs. The way he shoots it though, would make you think he's the team's power-play quarterback.
If anything, it's a nice looking goal to go down as his last one.
Skrastins Knocks Down Nilson
Karlis Skrastins was never one to drop the gloves that often, but when he did, he made the most of it.
The same can be said of the fight in this video. Skrastins used his strength to hold off Marcus Nilson of the Calgary Flames and ultimately knocked him down.