Journal

thirty seven

This is the darkest day in the history of our sport. This is not only a Russian tragedy, the Lokomotiv roster included players and coaches from 10 nations... This is a terrible tragedy for the global ice hockey community.
— Rene Fasel, IIHF President

This morning when I read the news about the plane crash along the Volga River, near Yaroslavl, Russia, I was stunned. It's been a tragic summer for hockey fans, losing three NHL players already, but then this. An entire KHL team - at least 43 reported dead so far. Families lost sons & fathers & brothers. Anyway you measure it, this would be a tragedy even if it stayed thousands of miles away, but it didn't.

Karlis steals a quiet moment during the anthem in Calgary, Jan. 21, 2011

Karlis steals a quiet moment during the anthem in Calgary, Jan. 21, 2011

37.

Karlis Skrastins, formerly of the Dallas Stars, was among those lost today. The former NHL ironman (who played a defenseman recorded 495 consecutive NHL games) wore this number on his back and just this summer celebrated his 37th birthday. He also celebrated a new chapter in a pretty wonderful hockey career - a chance to play with the KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team. I was happy for him. He was a good player and, beyond that, a good man. His kindness to me wasn't anything special, simply because he was kind to everyone. For this kind of man, 37 years are far too few.

Karlis1

I first met Karlis in the 2009-2010 season, his first as a Star, while photographing the four players representing their country in the Olympics (above) and watched in amazement before every game I shot as he went through his pre-game warmup ritual. The man epitomized discipline & hard work and it's clear in reading and listening to his former teammates, colleagues & fans, he was well loved by all who knew him. I think Brandon Worley over at DefendingBigD.com said it best:

"People like Karlis Skrastins make sports fun. He wasn't the most talented player in the league but he was one of the hardest working men in the NHL and he proved it night in and night out... Today I found myself affected by the loss of Karlis Skrastins in a way I would not have guessed might have happened. He was no longer with the Dallas Stars and he only played for two seasons in Dallas, yet he will always be remembered as one of the better guys to have set foot in the Stars locker room."

Karlis' going through is pre-game warm-up at American Airlines Center, in Dallas, TX.

Karlis' going through is pre-game warm-up at American Airlines Center, in Dallas, TX.

saying goodbye to Marty Turco in Dallas, TX | checking the damage in Calgary

saying goodbye to Marty Turco in Dallas, TX | checking the damage in Calgary

Karlis2

It's times like this that I'm reminded of the fragility & preciousness of this life. I'm also reminded of the inadequacy of words. I will be praying for Karlis' wife Zane & their two daughters as well as the families, friends and fans of the other 42 men on board.

Here's one more great article I found on Karlis, written by Pete Weber, the Nashville Predators play-by-play guy.

"Karlis was one of those guys who... played through the pain & never complained..." - Stephane Robida

"Karlis was one of those guys who... played through the pain & never complained..." - Stephane Robida

EDIT: here's a beautifully written (but gut wrenching) post by a woman who took Karlis' family to the airport yesterday.