September 8, 2011
Memories of KHL matesFormer NHL defenceman York played with Skrastins, Salei and McCrimmon
By JASON YORK, QMI Agency
OTTAWA - When I heard the news Wednesday morning that the hockey world had been struck by yet another tragedy, I went numb.
Time stood still for a moment and I was, like I’m sure many others were, in disbelief and shock.
I think it’s safe to say everyone around hockey felt like they had just been punched in the gut not once but more than a dozen times.
More than 40 lives were taken in the horrific plane crash in Russia, capping off a series of deaths in not just hockey but all of pro sports the likes of which I don’t think we’ve ever seen.
The KHL has never had a good reputation compared to the NHL and other European leagues, but something as tragic as this was unthinkable.
I’ve talked and joked with a lot of guys who have gone to play in Russia and some of their stories are funny, some downright scary.
Stories of players getting their apartments broken into. The story of ex-Senator Jamie Rivers living in the Zamboni room at the arena only to be awakened by the sound of howling wild dogs each night — wild dogs living in the bush behind the rink.
Stories of teams paying players cash in brown paper bags by a little, old Russian lady who came around once a month. Stories of players being abducted by the police only to be released when they paid the cops off.
I almost went over to St. Petersburg to play in 2005, but I decided not to go because I didn’t feel safe bringing along my family.
But what happened Wednesday, I don’t think anyone could ever have imagined.
Many lives were taken in that plane crash and none more important than the other, but two players and the coach I had the pleasure of playing with and getting to know stand out for me.
I played with Scratch during the happiest times of my career in Nashville. Scratch, as everyone called him, was a quiet guy, but he always came to the rink with a smile and everyone loved him because he would do anything for the team and he laughed at all our jokes — whether they were funny. Scratch had an ironman streak going for a long time — more than 300 games — which was amazing because he played extremely hard every game.
I had two stints in Anaheim with the Ducks and Rusty was there for both. Rusty and I were defence partners in 2002 and became good friends. We had a running joke where we nicknamed our teammate Vitaly Vishnevsky “Monster” because he kind of looked like Frankenstein and spoke in broken English like a monster. Vish hated the nickname and insisted we stop, so I called Salei Monster instead and he called me Monster as well. I can remember going back for a puck vs. the Kings and Rusty yelling for the D-to-D reverse and calling me Monster. Years later, when we played against each other, I would skate by him at a faceoff and say, “What’s going on, Monster?”
Anyone who has played in the NHL for a while knows the “Beast.” He was one of the good guys in the game. I met Brad when I was a rookie with the Red Wings, trying to find my way in the league. I was surrounded by a lot of great defencemen back then like Paul Coffey, Mark Howe and a young Nicklas Lidstrom. Some things you never forget and one that stays with me is the night I went out for dinner in Tampa with just the defencemen. I sat there like a sponge trying to soak everything in, but the thing I remember the most was “Beast” talking about the secrets to being a good pro and how to make it and stay in the league for a long time, like he had done. It was no surprise to me that Brad McCrimmon went on to coach after his playing days were over.