Brad McCrimmon decided his best route to a head coaching job in the NHL was to go behind the bench in the Kontinental League in Russia and it was a decision that cost him his life.
It was confirmed that McCrimmon was among 43 people killed Wednesday when a Yak-42 plane carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team crashed shortly after taking off. McCrimmon had just taken the head coaching job with Yaroslavl after parting ways with the Detroit Red Wings as an assistant after last season.
“Brad was hoping this would be an opportunity as a head coach to kind of springboard him to being a candidate to be a head coach in the NHL,” said Red Wings GM Ken Holland. “I know that was his long-term goal and he felt this would be a great opportunity.”
Holland said, “it’s a sad day for everyone associated with the Red Wings,” not only because of the death of McCrimmon, but it was also confirmed that two other players with ties to the Red Wings were on the Yaroslavl team. Goalie Stefan Liv, a Red Wings draft pick who played in 2006-07 with their farm team in Grand Rapids was killed in the crash, as was defenseman Ruslan Salei, who played last season with the Red Wings.
Holland said he has known McCrimmon since the late coach was acquired by the Red Wings in 1990 from the Calgary Flames for a second round draft pick and played three seasons there. He joined the Red Wings as an assistant in 2008-09 after Todd McLellan left to take the head coaching job with the San Jose Sharks.
“I know there were several opportunities for him as an assistant in the NHL and he talked to me after we parted ways and his goal was very strong that he wanted to be a head coach in the NHL,” Holland said. “And sometimes you have to do something to separate yourself as a candidate.”
The Red Wings GM also lauded McCrimmon not only for the job he did with the team, but also for the kind of person he was, saying the players responded well to him.
“He loved hockey. He loved talking hockey and he loved playing hockey,” Holland said. “He was a real old-time hockey guy and the players really liked him. I’m sure as a player, he was the kind of guy who was really well-liked by the players on the teams he played for. He was a really great team guy.”
The KHL, meanwhile, is currently trying to deal with the tragedy and its aftermath. The league issued a statement saying, “We are only beginning to understand the impact of this tragedy affecting the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl club and the international hockey community. First and foremost, our condolences go out to the families and friends of the players, coaches and staff lost in today’s tragedy.
“We know that there are many in the KHL family who will be grieving with us. As the investigation of this tragedy progresses we will work closely with investigators, government officials, club executives and the Yaroslavl community. We are working to find an appropriate way to honor this club and begin the healing process from the deep loss so many of us feel today.
“We are aware that many of you have questions. This tragedy remains our primary focus. We ask for patience as we find an appropriate way to proceed with the 2011-12 season.”
The KHL’s North American spokesperson, Shawn McBride, said no decision has been made on whether or not the Yaroslavl team will take part in this season. If it does, the roster could either be filled with players from its minor league and junior team or could be filled through a draft involving the other 23 teams in the league.
“We’re working with the league on a going-forward plan for this week and beyond and I would expect something will be announced within the next 24 to 48 hours,” McBride said. “What will happen is one of the big questions. One of the problems is that much of the KHL leadership is in different places because they were en route themselves for the opening of the season.”
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column.
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