Several Flyers were informally working out at the Skate Zone in Voorhees on Wednesday morning when they heard the stunning news: At least 43 people had died, including the Lokomotiv hockey team, in a plane crash in Russia.
Brad McCrimmon, 52, the head coach of the team and a former Flyers defenseman, was one of the people who died.
The news jolted the Flyers, some of whom were too upset to speak.
New Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who lives in Moscow - about a 3½-hour drive, he said, from the crash site - talked in a quiet, measured tone about the victims and their families.
"It's a tragedy. I know lots of guys on the team," Bryzgalov said. "It's a big loss for everyone."
Bryzgalov downplayed the fact that the crash occurred in his homeland.
"It doesn’t matter in what country (it happened)," he said. "We are all people and we all understand what kind of tragedy it is ... sudden death. It's different than when old people die. When young people die like that, it's tough to accept because they were full of life. Most of them have small kids."
Bryzgalov’s voice filled with emotion and turned into a whisper.
"It’s just difficult," he said.
Several former NHL players were on the plane.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said one of the players who died was Josef Vasicek, who played for him when he directed Carolina to the Stanley Cup in 2006.
"A quiet guy. Good player. Young," Laviolette said when asked of his memories of Vasicek, who would have turned 31 on Monday. "…It’s a devastating thing when something like that happens. We move around so much, in the middle of the night, and when something like that happens, it really kicks you in the teeth a little bit. All you can do is pray for their families.
"It’s a sad day in hockey; a sad day."
Bryzgalov said the crash won’t make flying any easier.
"It’s very dangerous. We fly a lot, and sometimes we’re flying through a storm and the plane was shaking so hard - and you start thinking, 'Oh my God. Please, no.' "
McCrimmon played for the Flyers from 1982-83 to 1986-87, and formed the best defensive pairing in the franchise’s history when he was together with Hall-of-Famer Mark Howe. McCrimmon won the Barry Ashbee award, presented to the team’s top defenseman, in 1984-85. He had a plus-83 rating in 1985-86.
Veteran forward Michael Nylander, who was skating in Voorhees on Wednesday and is trying to win a roster spot with the Flyers, played with McCrimmon in Hartford.
"It’s a devastating moment in hockey and all over the world," he said of the accident.
Nylander called McCrimmon "a great guy, a funny guy. He always had jokes."
“Brad was one of the toughest defensemen to ever wear the orange and black,” said Ed Snider, chairman of Comcast-Spectacor, the Flyers’ parent company. “He gained the nickname ‘the beast’ for his tenacity on the blue line and his ability to shut down our opponents.”
(more to come)
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