The effects from the deaths of former Toronto Maple Leafs Igor Korolev and Alexander Karpovtsev, who were killed in a tragic plane crash in Russia Wednesday, rocked the hockey world.
It is the fourth calamity to strike the sport in the past four months as a private jet carrying the well-known Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team of the Kontinental Hockey League crashed into the Volga River during its takeoff, killing 43 of 45 passengers – including eight crew members.
The ex-Leafs were teammates in Toronto during the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons, combining for 137 points.
Korolev also played with current Maple Leaf Nikolai Kulemin in the KHL with Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
“Igor Korolev was my friend,” Kulemin said at Leafs’ practice on Wednesday. “I know all the guys, all young guys, I played junior with them. I know everybody because I played in that league three years. It’s crazy.”
Among the people killed in the crash was the team’s Canadian head coach, Brad McCrimmon, who was a former assistant with the Detroit Red Wings last season, along with former NHLers such as Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei, Karlis Skrastins, Josef Vasicek and Karel Rachunek.
“It’s a terrible thing that happened, I know [McCrimmon] has a family and kids. It’s crazy to think that it could happen,” Maple Leaf forward Colby Armstrong told the Toronto Star. “He was in Saskatoon when I was younger and a big part of the community. He helped me out a lot when I went to Atlanta.”
Armstrong’s brother Riley is listed on the team’s website as a member of the Yaroslavl club, and was feared to be on the flight, but later tweeted that he was home and safe.
The team was traveling to the Belarus capital of Minsk to play in its season opener when the Russian Yak-42 plane crashed into an airport antenna, landing hard against the riverbank before catching fire.
Karpovtsev put up 44 points in 121 games during his two years as a reliable defenceman wearing the blue and white, but for Korolev, Toronto was special for several other reasons.
The 41-year-old Moscow native spent four seasons with a Maple Leaf on his chest, scoring 60 goals and 161 assists in 297 games, but beyond the on-ice accolades, both of Korolev’s daughters were born and raised in the city.
The former St. Louis draft pick and his wife obtained Canadian citizenship in 2000 before settling down and buying a home in North York.
The crash that took so many lives creating some controversy in both North America and Russia with many speculating that the planes the KHL used for transportation were dated and unreliable, as the entire fleet was to be taken out of use in the next six months.
Many Torontonians will remember Korolev and Karpovtsev for their days with the Leafs, but former Soviet netminder and current president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, Vladislav Tretiak echoed the thoughts of everyone who knew of the team and of the tragedy.
“This is a huge tragedy for Russian as well as for international hockey. Several internationally well-known players, a Canadian coach, all of them had remarkable careers in the big sport,” Tretiak told the Toronto Star. “We are all deeply shocked with the loss of such a great team.”