CALGARY - Mark Giordano knows all about the horror stories of travel for Kontinental Hockey League teams.
He spent a season (2007-08) skating for Moscow Dynamo in the Russian Elite League, which became the basis for the KHL.
The Calgary Flames defenceman is thankful he didn’t experience anything close to Wednesday’s crash which killed nearly every member of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl squad.
“I never felt unsafe travelling. I thought our plane was pretty modern,” said Giordano Thursday.
“We flew Aeroflot. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but I didn’t really feel unsafe.
“I was reassured by the guys we had good pilots.”
The crash claimed the lives of 43 people, including head coach Brad McCrimmon, a former Flames captain and assistant coach, as well as several former NHLers, including Alexander Karpovtsev, Igor Korolev, Pavol Demitra, Karlis Skrastins and Ruslan Salei.
The KHL plans to open its season Monday and to try to rebuild the Yaroslavl team from a pool of players selected from the remaining teams.
As much as the NHL may seem like a far-flung league, the KHL is on an entire new level.
“The amount of time zones and all that, there’s a lot of travel and a lot of chartered flights,” Giordano said.
“When I think back to it now, there were older planes around, but you take (your safety) for granted until something happens, which is unfortunate.”
Jordan Henry, a defenceman in the Flames system, returns this season to North America after spending last season playing for the KHL’s Minsk Dynamo team.
“We made that trip probably 10 times last year, and it went off without of hitch every time,” Henry said.
“Some of the planes out there might be out-dated — I saw the picture of the plane that went down, and we flew on that style of plane a few times — but you can’t speculate until the report comes out, whether it’s a pilot error or a plane error.
“Hopefully, they can take what they need out of it, improve what they have to improve over there, and make it better for everybody.”
Henry also said he had no problems of note during his time in the KHL.
“In the winter, whether you’re flying into Moscow, Siberia or Chicago, sometimes it’s windy and sketchy. But, with the planes, we didn’t have any incidents,” he said.
The plane crash sent shockwaves throughout the hockey world, in which seemingly every player knows somebody who died.
Flames forward Alex Tanguay played two seasons with Skrastins in Colorado.
“A great guy, very quiet going about his business, hard worker, very solid defenceman,” Tanguay said. “It’s sad. My heart goes out to them and his family. It’s truly a sad story I don’t wish upon anybody. I hope this situation will prevent other ones from going on.”
Flames defenceman Jay Bouwmeester played with both Skrastins and Salei while with the Florida Panthers.
“It’s pretty surreal. Even now, it hasn’t sunk in,” he said. “It’s pretty sad. With those other guys passing away in the summer, it’s kind of a downer heading into camp.
“You wish their families the best, but it’s tough, for sure.”
Among all the things which remain to be seen is how the KHL recovers.
“It’s going to be tough for that league, right when they were starting to break in and really get some recognition. It’s going to be tough for them to recover,” Henry said.
“I think they’ll recover eventually, The hockey world is a resilient world.”