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McCrimmon among plane crash fatalities

Russian team’s flight goes down, killing 43

BRAD McCRIMMON Played three years with Bruins BRAD McCRIMMON
Played three years with Bruins
By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / September 8, 2011

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Hockey’s protracted summer nightmare grew grimmer yesterday when a plane crash in Yaroslavl, Russia, killed a reported 43 people, including 27 players, two coaches, and seven club officials with the Kontinental Hockey League’s Lokomotiv team.

Included among the fatalities was former Bruins defenseman Brad McCrimmon, who was named Lokomotiv coach at the end of May after an apprenticeship that spanned 12 seasons as an NHL assistant.

Seven crew members also were killed.

McCrimmon, 52, eagerly anticipated making his debut as a pro team’s bench boss, and his first game was supposed to be this evening in Minsk, Belarus. But only moments after the club’s charter flight lifted off a runway at the Tunoshna Airport in Yaroslavl, some 160 miles to the northeast of Moscow, it clipped a signal tower and crashed less than 3 miles away at the edge of the Volga River.

Only one player, Russian Alexander Galimov, and one crew member survived, and both last night were listed in critical condition at an area hospital. One report stated that Galimov suffered burns over 80 percent of his body. Players from a total of 10 nations, none of them Americans, were killed.

“Brad had a passion for coaching, he stuck with it,’’ said Steve Kasper, a former Boston teammate of McCrimmon’s. “I can’t tell you he ever told me that’s what he wanted to do, be a head coach. But with Brad, he didn’t have to tell you - you just knew it, from his passion and enthusiasm.’’

The crash, which also killed former NHL forward Pavol Demitra, comes less than two weeks after ex-NHL forward Wade Belak was found dead, an apparent suicide, in a Toronto hotel room. Two other NHL tough guys, Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien, also died in recent weeks, Boogaard from a drug overdose and Rypien also from an apparent suicide.

“Just brutal, all of it,’’ said Matt Keator, Demitra’s longtime agent, who visited his client just three weeks ago in Riga, Latvia, where Yaroslavl played an exhibition game. “I was just there, and saw all those guys.

“Pavol organized a night out, everyone was happy. And you could tell Brad was just psyched to be there and be the head coach. It was such a lively, fun group of guys. This just doesn’t seem possible.’’

Several reports noted that the type of aircraft, a Yak-42, has been involved in a number of crashes in recent years, with some of the aircraft being kept in service for some three decades.

Local agent Kent Hughes noted yesterday that one of his clients, ex-Rangers backup goalie Steve Valiquette, just recently turned down a contract offer to play for Yaroslavl this season. According to Hughes, Valiquette, a Canadian who now lives in Connecticut, was bought out over the summer after playing one season for CSKA (Red Army) and wasn’t eager to resume playing in the KHL without an assurance that he would be given regular playing time.

“I can’t say he turned it down because of the air travel conditions over there,’’ said Hughes, who also represents Boston’s Patrice Bergeron and Tampa’s Vincent Lecavalier. “But let’s face it, from everything we hear and read, air safety in Russia isn’t quite the same as here. At the end of the day, who knows the true risks? But I think many players would consider air travel over there to be an issue.’’

During the 2004-05 NHL lockout, recalled Hughes, he was on a domestic flight in Russia that had a number of prominent NHLers aboard, including Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Darius Kasparaitis, and Alexei Kovalev. Hughes, seated directly behind Lecavalier, said he was mildly shocked during takeoff when Lecavalier’s seat, with the big center in it, all but collapsed into the agent’s lap.

“And prior to takeoff,’’ recalled Hughes, “we were delayed because of some mechanical issue. I remembered the whole thing bothered Kasparaitis, because the delay was supposed to be 2-3 hours, and then, all of a sudden, 20 minutes later they said we were taking off.

“Kasparaitis wasn’t buying it. He and some of the other players insisted that Kovalev ride in the cockpit because he’s got his pilot’s license. Like I say, different world.’’

Former Bruins scout Nik Bobrov, who lives in Milton, warned about jumping to conclusions about the condition of the plane or the reason for its crash. In the 24-team KHL, he said, the Lokomotiv franchise is among the most respected by the players for its first-class attention to detail and how it treats its player personnel.

“It’s considered a premier organization,’’ said Bobrov, who is employed by the KHL’s St. Petersburg franchise, representing its interests in North America and Europe. “I’ll leave it to the aviation experts to figure out what happened. But I can tell you clubs like Yaroslavl, St. Petersburg, Red Army, and a few others are meticulous in how they treat and care for their players.’’

McCrimmon was a first-round pick, 15th overall, in 1979, the same summer the Bruins selected Ray Bourque with the No. 8 pick. They both reported to training camp that September in Fitchburg, and both made immediate impacts on a Fred Creighton-coached roster that was aging in spots and adjusting to the departure of popular coach Don Cherry.

Thick of build and never shy about contact, McCrimmon soon earned the nickname “Beast,’’ and was an ever-reliable presence along the blue line, though overshadowed by the more gifted and offensively prolific Bourque. In June of ’82, after three full seasons with the Bruins, the 23-year-old backliner was swapped to Philadelphia for goalie Pete Peeters, providing the Bruins with a much-needed booster shot in net.

McCrimmon logged 1,222 career games, spending five seasons in Philadelphia and then moving on to Calgary, Detroit, Hartford, and Phoenix over a career that lasted until 1996-97. He won the Stanley Cup with the Flames in ’89. After his playing days, he was an assistant coach with the Islanders, Flames, Thrashers, and Red Wings.

“You know why he was in Russia? To be able to come back and be a head coach in the NHL, and he would have been great at that,’’ said Bourque. “Just a great, great guy and a tremendous teammate.

“Old-time hockey. Always there. Always doing the job. I bet I brought his name up in conversation five times last week with some of our old teammates - guys like Taz [Terry O’Reilly], Nifty [Rick Middleton].

“Just a guy that everybody loved, and no matter what team he played for, he helped, he made them better. He died still doing what he loved, so that’s good . . . but this is just a tragic day.’’

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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