Saturday, September 8, 2012

Reflections on Lokomotiv Yaroslavl

Today (yesterday, by the time you read this) is the anniversary of the plane crash that claimed the lives of the KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.

Why do I care?

"Care" isn't even the right word.

Why do I obsess? Why do I watch every moment from every team in the league, to the best of my ability? Why do I read every tweet, from Bob McKenzie to Adrian Dater, and everyone in between?

I fucking love it.

I would censor myself, but it wouldn't have the same feel. It requires that level of sincerity that would make some uncomfortable. Deal with it.

I listen to podcasts, I research games from the past, I find out how hockey changed and why the hell it happened. I can't get enough.

It's the same reason why just a few minutes ago, while reading again about the tragedy that nearly overcame a Russian hockey team, I began to tear up uncontrollably.

Yes, everyone, save for one crew member, died in that flight. They say that the plane crashed due to pilot error. Apparently, the pilot used the brakes in an inadvisable manner, causing the plane to fail to properly take off. I refuse to blame an individual for the incident. Mistakes happen, and though in this case, many lives were lost, I cannot find it within me to blame the pilot. The flight was made many times before, and this time, it failed. The pilot lost his life. Blame is to be given only when the negative repercussions do not affect those responsible. As it is, the man responsible paid dearly, and is to be remembered equally for the tragedy the occurred, not vilified. I cannot fly a plane, and I cannot pretend to do so. Therefore, with the family of the lost pilot in mind, I cannot blame him. I hope that nobody else does.

A bumblebee is not made to fly. It does not know this, so it flies anyways. The same could be said for the flight that resulted in the loss of 44 people. Many of them were hockey players, all of them were people who deserved long, happy lives. The flight never should have happened.

Some people rushed to blame the KHL for providing an unsafe means of transportation. Others rushed to blame the airline, itself, for not accounting for all possible failures. I am not here to do either. I am here simply to reflect on the men who lost their lives in the pursuit of something they had wished for as kids. These men died in the midst of "living the dream," as it were.

Having been disassociated with the hockey world for a few years now, I can see things in a more panned-out manner. As a senior in college, one thing I see a lot is the other hockey players my age, discussing the idea of "living the dream". It is, to me, the most beautiful thing that hockey can bring to a person. Living the dream.

This idea is one I've known for years, even knowing of it back when I still played. To live the dream is to play hockey, to score the goals, to lay down hits, to dangle, to have sick flow, and to pick up chicks like nobody's business (seriously, a thoroughbred hockey player dominates any football player you know). You can even be gongshow to the max and still live the dream. Simply put, playing hockey past anybody's reasonable expectations is living the dream. Nobody believes in you. They want you to give up, to quit.

The hockey player says no. Many people play hockey, but few are hockey players. To play is one thing. To live it is another. I hope that people recognize my passion and realize that, as much as I lacked the skills, I cared more than can be quantified. I felt and still feel the passion.

That is why I cry when I think of Lokomotiv. Aside from a few NHL role players (players without considerable skill, who slipped into a specified role to help their teams win), I did not know the team by name. But I knew them as people. It doesn't take a long career of junior hockey, semi-pro hockey, and professional hockey to know them. They were players not given another chance in the NHL, who could have gone on to other careers, but who said "no, I'm going to keep doing what I love". I respect that more than anything.

On September 7, 2011, at around 4:05 Russian time, the plane crashed. Along with the plane went the lives of 43 individuals. Right winger Alexander Galimov initially survived the crash, despite burns to over 90% of his body. Overcoming his grave injuries, he summoned the strength to call to rescuers, "brothers, I am Galimov". He succumbed to injuries a few days later, despite a courageous effort to stay alive.

His words still resonate with me. "Brothers, I am Galimov". I cannot put into words the feeling that resonates within me at the reading of those words. Is it strength? Compassion? I don't know. I read it, and the strength and courage of that man sticks with me. He could have remained silent and waited for the end, but instead, he fought on, declaring himself, refusing to go.

Kind of like the team, itself.

Despite an announcement stating that Lokomotiv Yaroslavl would not be participating in the upcoming KHL season, the team continues on. Former NHL players, as well as international players have pledged their allegiance to carry on in the name.

It is not a pity team, nor is it a memorial team. It is a hockey team, looking to win a championship. A true hockey player does not wish for someone to grieve for them after their end inevitably comes, whether early or on time. Hockey players live in the moment, vying for a win, and nothing more. It is Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Not Lokomotiv II, or anything like that. It simply is what it is.

Remember those who lose their lives doing what they loved. Do not remember them simply because of what they did and why they lost their lives. Remember them more for the fact that sometimes, people meet their end, and at their end, they have no extra time. No time to make up for what may have been lost before their end. No time to right wrongs. Instead, they have only what has been accomplished up to that time. I believe that the people who died in the crash probably died at the happiest point in their lives. Grown-up men, playing a kids' game for money.

How much sweeter does it get?

Always remember:

Vitali Anikienko
Mikhail Balandin
Gennady Churilov
Pavol Demitra
Robert Dietrich
Alexander Galimov
Marat Kalimulin
Alexander Kalyanin
Andrei Kiryukhin
Nikita Klyukin
Stefan Liv
Jan Marek
Sergei Ostapchuk
Karel Rachůnek
Ruslan Salei
Maxim Shuvalov
Kārlis Skrastiņš
Pavel Snurnitsyn
Daniil Sobchenko
Ivan Tkachenko
Pavel Trakhanov
Yuri Urychev
Josef Vašíček
Alexander Vasyunov
Alexander Vyukhin
Artem Yarchuk