EDMONTON - Ryan Smyth left the Kinsmen Twin Arenas with a heavy heart Wednesday afternoon.
The Edmonton Oilers winger knew both Karlis Skrastins and Ruslan Salei, who were killed in a plane crash in Russia earlier in the day.
The three were former members of the Colorado Avalanche.
"It's shocking to the hockey world for sure," said Smyth, who was at the south side rink skating with a number of Oilers veterans in preparation for the upcoming season. "You see how easily things can be taken away, so you can't take anything for granted when you leave your family and your friends behind. I can't even imagine what their family and friends are going through right now.
"I played with both Karlis Skrastins and Ruslan Salei and Brad McCrimmon played with my older brother. It's a sad day for sure."
Skrastins, Salei and McCrimmon were members of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team who perished when their plane crashed shortly after takeoff on Wednesday.
The club was on its way to Minsk to open its Kontinental Hockey League campaign. McCrimmon was the team's head coach.
Smyth played with Skrastins and Salei after being traded by the Oilers during the 2006-2007 season and signing with the Avalanche the following year.
He spent two seasons in Colorado before being dealt to the Los Angeles Kings. He was traded back to the Oilers, per request, this off-season.
"We walked into the rink this morning and everyone was talking about it, for sure," Smyth said. "It put a damper on things, but it makes you realize that we are blessed to be able to come the rink every day and just be thankful for what you got."
Reports out of Russia said the Yak-42 aircraft failed to gain enough height after leaving the runway and collided with a navigation beacon, crashing roughly two kilometers from Yaroslavl's Tunoshna airport.
Considering how much time NHL teams spend in the air during the season, the tragedy had some players thinking about the inherent risks they take getting on a plane.
"It's in the forefront now," Smyth said. "Every time you step on the plane and travel from city to city, you realize how important those pilots are and what they go through, and the few extra minutes that they need to take to make sure everything is safe, you're receptive to it."
The KHL was formed in 2008 and features teams mainly based in Russia.
Since its inception, the league has attempted to lure European players back from the NHL with lucrative contracts.
A number of North American players have also gone over to play in the league.
McCrimmon, a former assistant with the New York Islanders, Calgary Flames, Atlanta Thrashers and, most recently, Detroit Red Wings, was in his first year as head coach of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.
"I had chance in '05 during the lockout to play in Russia and I opted not to go," Smyth said. "We enjoy the game and we love to play the game whether it's here or overseas. We try to make an honest living just like everybody else and going over there, they go over to play great hockey.
"There is some great hockey over there. It's a different way of life for sure, and it's unfortunate for their families something like this happened."