First, I want to say my thoughts and prayers go to the family and friends of the Locomotiv Yaroslavl hockey club as well as the rest of those who were on the chartered Yakolev Yak-42 jet plane. Honestly, I didn’t know how to go about my next blog. This is probably the most dreadful summer that the hockey community has had to endure. It seems that NHL players’ deaths have grabbed the headlines the last few weeks and a lot of us have asked “Why so many tragedies?”. This past Wednesday when the news broke about the Yak-42 flight carrying the Locomotiv, words couldn’t describe my reaction. I’m still hit pretty hard by this sad blow to the hockey community.
It was the lead story in the local news and there were Red Wing ties to Locomotiv. Ruslan Salei, who left the Red Wings to sign with the KHL club, was in the plane, as was former Red Wing goalie prospect Stefan Liv. Among the players on Locomotiv were those who went to the KHL as a possible springboard for an NHL comeback, and those who went for the tax-free money or just to play the sport that they love.
While those dreams were snatched away, there was one person in particular who will never see his dream of becoming an NHL coach. Brad McCrimmon left the Detroit Red Wings organization this past May to become head coach of Locomotiv Yaroslavl. Coaching the KHL club is the equivalent to being a head coach of the Montreal Canadiens or Detroit Red Wings. It’s a high profile job and would have been excellent on his resume.
When he left for Russia, it was the last time he saw his wife Maureen, son Liam and daughter Carlin. By leaving, he and his family sacrificed a lot. He accepted a job thousands of miles and time zones away so he could create a better life for him and the people he loved most.
I thought he would have been a great head coach, whether it was in the KHL or in the NHL. He had a wealth of knowledge. He spent 18 seasons as a defenseman in the NHL, won a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989, and was an assistant coach for 4 NHL teams over 12 seasons (including the Red Wings). In the middle of his assistant head coaching jobs, he was the head coach of the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League for parts of two seasons.
McCrimmon wasn’t a nominee for a Norris Trophy, but he was a steady blueliner and held his own against NHL competition. Over his career, he played with some great blueliners such as Ray Bourque, Mark Howe, Paul Coffey and Chris Pronger. He also was instrumental on the development of a Red Wing prospect from Vasteras, Sweden named Nicklas Lidstrom. When Lidstrom first came to Detroit in 1991 as a rookie, his defense partner was McCrimmon and they became a solid duo on the blueline in the ’91-’92 season.
During the last three years of his life, McCrimmon was a member of Mike Babcock’s coaching staff. It would have been safe to say that McCrimmon took mental notes from the best head coach in the NHL.
On September 7, McCrimmon and the rest of the Locomotiv Yaroslavl club lifted off on a flight to Minsk, Belarus to play the Dynamo Minsk. This was supposed to be officially the next step for McCrimmon to become an NHL coach, but he would never even get to coach his first KHL game. His dream ended just like the others that perished on the Yak 42 flight.
About the Author: Alex lives in Hockeytown, USA. He is a huge Red Wings fan going back to the 1985-86 season when they were dead last with 40 points. He has seen the transition from the 'Dead Wings' to one of the top franchises in sports. You can also follow him at twitter.com/alexmuscat73.