The news Tuesday that an entire Kontinental Hockey League team was feared dead in a plane crash in Russia hit especially close to home for the Philadelphia Flyers family.
Among the confirmed dead was Lokomotiv Yaroslavl coach and former Flyers defenseman Brad McCrimmon, who was a key player on Philadelphia’s 1985 and ’87 Stanley Cup finals teams.
"We're kind of in shock by the news," former Flyers defense partner Mark Howe said in an interview on 94.1-FM in Philadelphia. "It's a tragic loss. It's a loss for the entire hockey world."
Lokomotiv's roster featured ex-NHL players Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei, Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek and Karlis Skrastins and Alexander Vasyunov, plus assistant coaches Alexander Karpovtsev and Igor Korolev, both longtime NHL players. The 23-year-old Vasyunov played in 18 games for the New Jersey Devils last season.
McCrimmon, 52, is described in the Associated Press account of the crash as “mosly recently an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings,” who “played 18 years in the NHL for Boston, Philadelphia, Calgary, Detroit, Hartford and Phoenix.”
But while McCrimmon was somewhat of a journeyman — three seasons each with the Bruins, Flames, Red Wings and Whalers, plus one with the Coyotes — his five seasons with the Flyers were enough to put him among the best defensemen in franchise history.
Spending most of his time on the Flyers’ top pairing with Howe, McCrimmon, nicknamed "the Beast," averaged 32 points in his five seasons in Philadelphia. His plus-minus ratings by season, starting in 1982-83, were +24, +19, +52, +83 and +45.
Howe said he and McCrimmon roomed together for three years and were "best buddies" off the ice, Howe said.
"If I was in dire need, he's one of three people in my life who I knew if I made a phone call, he'd be there for me," Howe told the radio station. "He was a man's man."
Led by Howe and McCrimmon on defense, the Flyers reached the Stanley Cup finals in 1985 and ’87, losing both times to the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers.
"I've always felt that Brad's abilities were overlooked because I received much of the credit," said Howe, who is known as the greatest defenseman in Flyers' history. "He was a fighter, and his endurance as an athlete was incredible. He was just a great teammate.
"The only thing that mattered to him had nothing to do with goals and assists and points. It was winning."
McCrimmon worked as an assistant coach for the Detroit Red Wings before moving to the KHL. Howe said he last spoke to him about a month ago, before he left for Russia.
"He wanted to be a head coach in the NHL," Howe said.
Red Wings president Ken Holland spoke to ESPN.com about McCrimmon.
"I've known Brad going back to the late 80s when we acquired him here," Holland said. "He was a real popular player. Then we had him as an assistant coach here. He loved hockey. He was a tremendous guy and wonderful family man. Our thoughts and prayers go to his wife Maureen and two children."
Former Flyers teammate Rick Tocchet spoke to CSNPhilly.com about McCrimmon.
"The one thing, him and Mark together, they probably played 33 to 35 minutes a game,” Tocchet said. “Part of why they called him a beast.
“People talk about (Zdeno) Chara, but guys like Brad were doing it back then with plus/minus in the 80s or better. I know the first five or six years when I played with those guys, being on the ice with Brad and Mark, Brad was such a smart player who cleared the net and made those first passes. He was a good leader in the room.
“Brad is one of the reasons why I played as long as I did in the NHL. Him and Mark Howe and Dave Poulin. I lived with Brad a couple of months my first or second year until I found a place. He helped me make it to the NHL. He taught me how to be a pro.
“You talk about small things in life. If you were on the road and had no money with you, you could go to Brad and he would give you $100. If there was a restaurant in the city, he would organize a team meal. Brad was an influential part of a lot of people’s careers.”