The Plane Crash in Russia, and Trying to Make Sense of the NHL's Tragic Summer

Franklin Steele@FranklinSteeleAnalyst IISeptember 7, 2011

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 05:  Ruslan Salei #24 of the Detroit Red Wings in action during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Arena on March 5, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Red Wings 5-4 in an overtime shoot out.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I woke up this morning to 14 emails, five voice mails and over a dozen forms of interaction on Facebook.

Those numbers didn't appear to be odd at first.  I had just published a slideshow grading the offseasons of all 30 NHL teams, and I had failed a few teams.  Perhaps I had drawn the ire of fans of these franchises.

So I cracked my knuckles and opened my Gmail account, ready for the fight that was surely about to transpire.  After reading the subject lines of the first several emails, my adrenaline quickly caved and gave way to a deep and sudden sadness.

It started raining outside right at that moment.  Melancholy gripped me down to the marrow of my bones.

No one wanted to argue with me.  Everyone wanted to talk about what had happened while I was asleep.  My dad wanted to know if I was alright in light of several Red Wings players being involved, and friends on Facebook wanted to know if I had heard about it.

About the plane crash in Russia that claimed the lives of at least 43 people.

Suddenly, the last thing I could think about was hockey, about Sidney Crosby's news conference or about which Red Wing was going to swipe the sixth spot on the blue line in training camp. 

Because just a few short months ago, that was Ruslan Salei's spot.

Video of the event had leaked by the time I found out about it.  But I can't watch it.  Those aren't hockey players burning in that plane crash.  Those are fathers and sons and people.  People who had just made a phone call to their wives or daughters just before takeoff, telling them that they'd see them soon.  

Telling them that they were loved.

In my head, for the sake of my own sanity, I have to believe that all of those people on that plane had the chance to make that call.  But in my heart of hearts, I know that they didn't.  That to these professional athletes, this was just another plane ride.

I can't help but think back to the mission statement of my first blog.  My friend and I opened up a site last October and called it Hat Tricks and Life Tips because we felt that the connection between how you played hockey and lived your life was deeper in this sport than any other game.

It's easy to make sense of a lot of things with that logic.  It's simple to assume that a warrior on the ice is a warrior off of it as well.  But the tragic events of this summer have shattered that idea for me.  I am sure it has had the same effect on a lot of people.

Some may always remember this as the summer Brad Richards became a Ranger.  Or when the Flyers overhauled their lineup and the Sharks became true contenders.  But I will struggle to recall any of these things.

To me, the summer of 2011 will always be when I realized that hockey players aren't super heroes and demigods.

I'm 24 years old, and up until six hours ago, I always wanted to believe that these guys just had something the rest of us didn't.  That they were invincible, and never caught colds and never struggled with addiction or depression.

But they are just as human as the rest of us.  Like those funny NHL ads used to point out, players are just like you and me...except they are really good at hockey.

I just wanted to send my heart out to the families of all of those who have lost loved ones this summer, and in general.  Even if it wasn't related to this tragedy in Russia, or you didn't know Rick Rypien or Derek Boogaard, my heart goes out to you.

In the wake of these tragedies, everyone seems to get a new lease on life.  They realize that this hour could be their final one, and they start living in a different way.  Maybe they start pursuing a dream, or begin working out or whatever.

But then a few weeks later the tragedy is forgotten, and everyone is back about their usual business.  I encourage you never to forget the events of this summer, and to allow the memory to encourage you to do the best you can with what you have every day.

This is bigger than hockey.  This is life, and it's all we have.

My condolences go out to everyone who has been touched by these tragedies, and any other kind of hardship lately.  I really don't know what else to say.