All the languages. English, Swedish, Russian, French, Czech, and many more. A common thread among them being shock and sadness over the violence of a few seconds that ended the lives of dozens of hockey players, coaches and crew aboard an aircraft that fell out of the sky on an early September morning.
Reading the first sketchy accounts on social networks of a crash of a chartered flight in western Russia seemed like a cruel hoax, the brainchild of an unscrupulous person with too much time on their hands. But then the names started coming up on the screen as testimony to the hard reality unfolding. Pavol Demitra, Josef Vasicek, Ruslan Salei, Karlis Skrastins, Karel Rachunek, Brad McCrimmon – names that would be familiar to hockey fans in Europe and North America in addition to players on the club known to and cheered on by their fans in the KHL.
As time passed, the messages coming over social networks spread across all those languages. People in Europe, Canada, and the States were expressing disbelief and sorrow over the story that was unfolding along a river near Tunoshna, a town near Yaroslavl, 150 miles northeast of Moscow. The details were slow to come – an air charter carrying the team and coaches of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team to their Thursday KHL season opener in Minsk crashed on the banks of the Volga River shortly after takeoff. At first it was thought that all lives were lost, then that there was a survivor, perhaps two. It was not clear whether the passengers included all or some of the KHL team and coaches.
But as the day wore on, the grim news emerged, ultimately captured in a simple, if achingly eloquent message from team press attaché Vladimir Malkov…
"Now there is no hope. The whole team is lost."
An Associated Press report put the numbers at 45 people on board with two surviving the crash – player Alexander Galimov and a member of the flight crew. The messages posted on Twitter and other media throughout the day by correspondents Dmitry Chesnokov and Slava Malamud were heartbreaking.
And then, the languages. Messages of condolence sprouting across the Web in English, Russian, Swedish… One might not have been able to understand the words, but the names – Demitra, Liv, Vasicek, McCrimmon, and others – were clear. And one did not need to understand the words to comprehend the message of shock and grief that was being expressed for what seemed like the latest in a countless line of tragedies in this year of despair in hockey.
The days and weeks ahead will be occupied by investigations as to the cause of the crash, investigations that might have repercussions of their own. People will search for a fitting way to memorialize the victims of this tragedy – ceremonies remembering the players and crew members, wearing the Lokomotiv logo on jerseys. But for now, families and friends grieve, and fans wonder what curse has settled over the game this year, with its loss of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, Wade Belak, and Tom Cavanagh; and now those lost from Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.
One thing does come to mind over the past several hours, though. There are pronouncements that an event like this highlights (as if we need it one more time) that there are things more important than a game. For that, there is no counterargument, but the game provides a sense of community. And hockey is, if nothing else, a sport that inspires a tight knit to its community, both among those who play and coach the game, and those to cheer and root for the players and their teams. Reading the messages of players today made one realize that these players might have played with – as part of national teams or NHL teams – and against many of those players who passed away this morning. The love and respect for those who might have been at times their friends, teammates, and even competitors was clear to see in the messages posted by players. The messages from fans who sought out the means to express their sadness and shock over the day’s events in so many languages reflected the importance of the game as the means to forge a community.
And in whatever language, it might be fair to say that this community lost some of its best sons and brothers today in what has become an incomprehensibly sad year in the world of hockey.
Picture: Misha Japaridze/AP