If you think the hockey community is a small, tightly-knit one, the coaching fraternity is even more so. It took a major hit Wednesday with the tragic plane crash that killed just about every member of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League.
Former NHL defenseman Brad McCrimmon only recently became Lokomotiv's head coach — a stepping stone to writing a second chapter to his hockey legacy.
"The tough part for us is he went to Russia to become a head coach to come back to the NHL to become a head coach," Stanley Cup-winning coach Ken Hitchcock told The Washington Times. "It's really tough for us to look at what he sacrificed to get a chance to have that credibility to be a head coach."
McCrimmon worked 11½ seasons as an NHL assistant with the Islanders, Flames, Thrashers and Red Wings from 1997 through 2001 but couldn't get a chance as a head man. He left Detroit only a few months ago for the KHL.
"He wanted to become a head coach and he was willing to make the sacrifices and obtain the necessary information by coaching at another level to accomplish that," said Hitchcock, who first knew McCrimmon through fellow coaches Don Hay and Wayne Fleming. "You feel so bad for the family because he went there to better himself."
Hitchcock's final conversation with McCrimmon was just before the new Lokomotiv coach went over to Russia for training camp — discussing systems and the like. Then came a call from someone in the KHL on Wednesday that McCrimmon was one of 40-plus victims of the horrific crash about 150 miles northeast of Moscow.
"My focus is on the people left behind — for Brad's family and for all the other players' families with this team — that's the people who I feel for," Hitchcock said.
McCrimmon on Wednesday was also remembered for his time as a player. He spent 18 seasons as an NHL defenseman with the Bruins, Flyers, Flames, Red Wings, Whalers and Coyotes. Flyers owner Ed Snider had this to say about the man who (along with impending Hall of Famer Mark Howe) made up the best defensive duo in that franchise's history:
"He gained the nickname 'the beast' for his tenacity on the blue line and his ability to shut down our opponents. Off the ice, Brad was a true gentleman. He was a kind, caring and wonderful human being."
All around the league friends and colleagues mourned McCrimmon's passing at the age of 52.
He never got a chance to coach a game in the KHL, but McCrimmon still left a lasting impact.
"He's a black-and-white, tell-it-like-it-is guy," Hitchcock said. "And he's a guy that a lot of us had a lot of healthy respect for as a player and a coach.
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