NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – For the Rangers, an already dark summer just became unimaginably worse.
New York players struggled Wednesday to comprehend a shocking loss to their sport after a chartered Russian plane carrying the Kontinental Hockey League’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team crashed, killing several NHL veterans — some of whom played for the Rangers, Islanders and Devils — in one of the worst air disasters in sports history.
Many players heard about the accident on their way back to work from summer breaks. Most NHL training camps open next weekend, and every club radiates optimism for the season ahead.
But hockey is hurting after an offseason of tragedies and disappointments, including the deaths of three players – including Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard — in a four-month span before the catastrophic crash.
“The hockey world mourns yet again. Please God, we can’t take much more,” tweeted Blueshirts forward Brandon Prust, the former roommate of Boogaard.
“I know these people, half the team,” said Rangers center Artem Anisimov, according to the New York Daily News. Anisimov, from Yaroslavl, came through the Lokomotiv system on his way to the NHL.
“Young guys, we’ve grown up together, you know,” he said. “In Russia, they have school – it’s one organization, Yaroslavl. You go to the hockey school growing up, play with the second team and then you grow up and play with the first team, so a bunch of young guys I know, and the medical staff, all the staff, I know, too. So sad.”
Anisimov, obviously shaken up, continued: “I don’t want to believe it. The news says plane crash, and I feel sick. I feel bad. Sitting in traffic coming here, I felt terrible.”
No NHL team was left unscarred by the obliteration of a top club in the KHL, which emerged as Europe’s most lucrative league over the past three years, with teams in former Soviet republics competing with the NHL for players mostly from eastern Europe.
Former 1994 Rangers member Alexander Karpovtsev was among the casualties. He was an assistant coach with Lokomotiv.
“(Karpovtsev) was a fun-loving individual, who was also a very skilled and talented hockey player,” ’94 Rangers coach Mike Keenan told The Daily News. “He always had a smile on his face and laughed a lot.”
Ex-Islanders center Josef Vasicek and Karel Rachunek, former defenseman for the Rangers and Devils, were also on the plane. So was Alexander Vasyunov, who played with New Jersey for part of last season.
The loss of Vasyunov really hit Anisimov.
“We grew up together and played together,” he said.
Hockey had been reeling since May 13, when Boogaard died in his apartment in Minneapolis.
The personable forward was one of the NHL’s top enforcers, bringing charisma to the traditional hockey role of brawler who sticks up for his teammates in crowd-pleasing fights. Boogaard died from an accidental mix of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone, officials said. Meantime, Boston University scientists are studying his brain to determine whether he had a degenerative condition resulting from hits to the head.
“It’s terrible, the hockey world’s had these tragic losses all summer, and it twists up your stomach,” said Rangers forward Mike Rupp. “Everyone I’ve talked to today just has that sick feeling, and that’s all I’m feeling right now.”
Three months later the body of Rick Rypien of the Winnipeg Jets was discovered at his home in Alberta after a police official said a call was answered for a “sudden and non-suspicious” death. Although Rypien had suffered from depression for a decade, his brawling style of play raised additional questions about the mental health of enforcers.
Recently retired player Wade Belak hanged himself in Toronto on Aug. 31, a person familiar with the case told the AP.
The Lokomotiv disaster will linger over the upcoming NHL season.
“Though it occurred thousands of miles away from our home arenas, this tragedy represents a catastrophic loss to the hockey world, including the NHL family, which lost so many fathers, sons, teammates and friends who at one time excelled in our league,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement. “Our deepest condolences go to the families and loved ones of all who perished.”
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