How Can Hockey Absorb Such Losses?

I'm sure I'm recycling the same thoughts we're all thinking right now. How can these things happen? How can you lose 43 people -an entire team- in just one instant? I didn't wake up in my usual way, the same way I had the days of Derek Boogaard's, Rick Rypien's and Wade Belak's passings, today I got out of bed and looked at my phone. There were tweet-texts on it, but that wasn't unusual, until I read what was in them. Terrible news. 36 confirmed dead on board crashed charter plane. When my fears were confirmed, that there were names I was familiar with on board, I forgot about what I had to do today. It had happened again.

While I know there were three former Panthers killed today, that's not why I'm compelled to write this. When Boogaard passed, I left it to Minnesota and New York to say their words and respects. When Rypien and Belak passed, I had little to say. We all just reacted in our own ways, and for me that meant looking at the ground, then up at the sky and wishing everyone peace in their grieving. That was all I could do. I wasn't a Wild fan, or a Canucks fan or a Preds fan. Today a plane crashed carrying a KHL team with only a handful of recognizable passengers. This loss hurts the most. Today I'm setting aside my loyalties to Florida for a more simple distinction, a hockey fan. And today was a tragedy for hockey, not just for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.

Today it rained. It rained all day, for hours upon hours and as I write this it's just now clearing up. When I woke to gray skies, I suppose the mood was set for the day. An hour later I sat in the computer lab at the university uneasily watching the tweets flood in,  Pavol Demitra confirmed dead by his agent. Karlis Skrastins confirmed dead by Latvian Embassay. Ruslan Salei was indeed aboard the ill fated flight. Our worst nightmares had come true, everyone was lost. At this point we knew the drill; condolences, sorrow and disbelief. 

A few articles surfaced with contingency plans, as if we'd shattered the glass and grabbed the fire extinguisher. This fire was long gone, we were just sitting back to read the manual we found buried amongst the shards. The Beginners Guide to Starting From Scratch. I'll admit to flipping the pages looking for the next step. Everything will be alright if we just keep moving forward! At this point we knew the drill; find the problem, think about it and move on. That's what I did after the three tragedies before today.

Yet today I couldn't shake the sorrow. I knew that two players had been erased from my personal list of NHLers I'd loved but weren't good enough for fantasy teams. Everyone on the plane had been accounted for, it couldn't get any worse. Knowing it couldn't get any worse was the relief, knowing there were 43 families suffering the same loss magnified incomprehensibly larger was the pain. I don't know how you can hold back an insufferable pain you know exists but just can't quite feel. I couldn't hold it back. We're talking about hundreds of names and faces we'll never know or see, they just inhabit the back of your mind gnawing at you. I wish them all the best while they try to smother the pain and remember their loss.

This is how humans absorb a loss, but what about hockey? I didn't lose anyone I knew today, but as a hockey fan I'm still in a state of shock regardless. While the rain fell outside I was still trying to get inside the tragedy. I know what happened, I have an idea of why it happened, and I know it's over now. I just wish there was some kind of explanation besides a crash report. 43 people were killed and thousands are at a loss. How does hockey recover from this kind of tragedy? We watched players from our favorite teams honor those lost in a way I didn't always see in the tragedies before. Maybe the heartbreak of losing someone with a common bond hurts just as much whether you knew them personally or not.

I guess the ultimate answer to my question is that hockey absorbs these losses slowly over time. Fans will have to slowly come to terms with everything that happened this summer, not just swallow it whole like we might try. I'll miss Ruslan Salei for his big slapshot from the point; it seemed whenever the team needed a goal and he wound-up, the need would be met. I'll miss Karlis Skrastins for amassing seasons upon seasons without missing a game, while always keeping the lowest of profiles. I'll miss the rest of Lokomotiv not because I knew them, but because I didn't and can't bear the thought of losing any more familiar names. Whether the former clubs of all the lost souls of this summer honor them or not, raise their banner in your own personal conscience just because you now know the pain. We might have never known the players lost today and as of tomorrow morning may never hear of them again, but just know that hundreds of people far, far away have to live with this for the rest of their lives, whether we choose to or not.

If we've learned anything from this horrifying summer, let's hope it's the realization that hockey is fragile. There is more than what meets the eye on the ice and in the post-game report. We can all laugh at reports of Big Buff's weight and mock a player's actions but we know we'd be truly upset if they were taken from us. We are just now discovering the emotional side of the NHL, and the connection we have as fans to the players we cheer for. Hockey gives us entertainment but it also gives us a sense of community as fans, even to those across the oceans. We all have to absorb the shock collectively as a team and as a family.

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