Our season tickets arrived yesterday and it got me to thinking about the off-season. It's been an unusual off-season in hockey. The season ends mid-June when the Stanley Cup finds a home with the winner of a grueling hockey season. A couple weeks later the NHL draft occurs followed by the opening of free agency on July 1st. After that there are a few stories, some of them interesting, most of them not. As a Flyers fan it was a really interesting off-season because of the rooster moves and the goalie signing. Not to mention the various post about the many statistics analyzing the moves and declaring every team a winner except the Flyers. Then there was the speculation every couple weeks about Sidney Crosby and whether he would return to the NHL after suffering 2 concussions within days of each other in January. This lead to the stories about head shots and would the NHL ever get serious about enforcing and/or eliminating them in hockey.
Interspersed in these stories were three very sad stories about three hockey players who left this world before their time. Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak, three enforces, all died this summer under questionable circumstances. Boogaard died after taking a cocktail of alcohol and painkillers. Rypien was found died in his home in Alberta. He had been battling depression for 10 years and had taken two leaves of absence from the game over the last few seasons. Belak was also found dead in Toronto of an apparent suicide. These guys were all enforcers on there teams which lead to articles questioning the role of fighting and the need for an enforcer in the game.
But by far the saddest story of the off-season came earlier today. 43 members of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Kontinetial Hockey League (KHL) in Russia were killed when their place crashed on take-off. They were on their way to the first game of the season. Some of the members were former NHL players but they were all part of the hockey world. They were fathers and sons and husbands and friends who lost their lives in what is most likely the worst accident in all of professional sports.
As Flyers fans are complaining about not getting Winter Classic tickets as part of their season ticket package, there are people in Russia mourning the loss of their team. While we are anxiously awaiting the start of our season, they will have to make funeral arrangements. I did not follow the KHL and aside from a few names (players from the NHL), I did not recognize most of the people who died.
It's been a sad off-season. There has been so much tragedy and loss. But the game will go on.