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Chatting with Pavel Datsyuk about Lokomotiv plane crash, his friend Ruslan Salei and future of the KHL

Dmitry Chesnokov
Puck Daddy

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The NHL Media Tour this year involved special events for non-North American media. The League cordially invited us to attend; due to previous engagements we were unable to.

However, Sovetsky Sport's New York reporters Alexander Klamkin and Alisa Volbidakht did, and forwarded the following interview they had with Pavel Datsyuk, who was unable, quite understandably, to talk about anything but the tragedy in Russia.

Here are some excerpts from their talk with the Detroit Red Wings star about the plane crash that took the lives of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl players and coaches:

Q. We were getting ready for this interview for a week now. Thanks to the NHL for organizing it. We wanted to talk about the upcoming season, about the Red Wings' chances of winning the cup, about other teams…  But none of it will happen because all of the thoughts are with Lokomotiv.

DATSYUK: "That is all correct. I am in a very bad state. I call my friends in Ekaterinburg, talk to them. Every time they tell me all the details of the Yaroslavl tragedy. They give new information…  It all stacks up. It puts on a lot of pressure.

"This morning right before our meeting I watched a requiem on YouTube that was organized in Minsk in remembrance of the hockey players who died. It touched me so deep how people reacted to this tragedy, with the kind of respect they remembered [those] people. It touched my soul.

"But I caught myself thinking that I still cannot believe it. I cannot accept that this actually happened. Only now I am starting to realize that you cannot bring the guys back. I don't want to believe it…  But now you have to live with it."

"I still held hope that Ruslan Salei arrived in Minsk ahead of Lokomotiv. That he was not on the doomed flight. I received a lot of messages. Some people wrote that he was alive. Others claimed he was not. There was no certainty.

"But now it was announced with certainty that Salei was on the plane. That's how my last hope died… Although no, not the last hope. I believe that Sasha Galimov will eventually pull through."

We'll pray for him…

"When there is a break, you sit in silence and different thoughts are running [through your head]. You try to remember who from Lokomotiv you knew, who you talked to. Ruslan [Salei] was the closest to me from that team."

We know you were friends with Salei.

"Before he came to Detroit we just knew each other. And during the last season we spent a lot of time together. We sat together on the plane going to away games. We played cards…

"Ruslan is no longer with us…" [Datsyuk sighed heavily]

There was a story that Alexei Kovalev was reminded about: That a few years ago Detroit was also on a charter airplane and the plane lost all of its engines. It was a miracle they were all restarted in the air.

"Everything is correct but the date. It wasn't a few years ago, but before I joined the team. I think it was either 1999 or 2000.

"But there was another incident when I was here. Detroit's plane wanted to land in Buffalo in bad weather. It was very scary then… [Datsyuk searched for the words] Scary."

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What was the guys' reaction on board?

"I can't talk for everyone. But I got a feeling that you should treasure your life more. Perhaps these things happen by the will of someone from above. To ensure we don't forget that we are all under one God."

A lot of players may not even consider the KHL as an option after this. I know that your former Detroit coach Brad McCrimmon listened to advice from one of his friends before signing a contract with Lokomotiv. 'The only thing that I am worried about in Russia is airplane trips.'

[At this moment Datsyuk's assistant Danya, made the following remark: "By the way, the plane Detroit flies on is older than that 17 year old Yak-42." Datsyuk nodded in agreement.]

Could the crash hurt KHL's image? A lot of foreigners reluctantly go to Russia even now. Jarkko Ruutu for example signed a contract with Finnish Jokerit and openly said that he was offered 10 times more in the KHL.

"To be honest, I don't have any desire to talk neither about the KHL, nor about the League's image. Not at this time…

"But it is not a secret that NHLers go to Russia with big reservations. There is a lot of different information floating around.

"As far as McCrimmon, he went to Lokomotiv not for the money, but because he had dreamt of trying himself as a head coach for a very long time. He worked for Detroit for a few years together with Mike Babcock. He acquired a lot of knowledge. He had a desire to use it in real life. That's why Brad went to Russia.

"He didn't look at the quality of airplanes. McCrimmon's main goal was to prove himself, to gain confidence in his own strengths."

• • •

At the end Datsyuk said that there are no other topics he could talk about. With another heavy sigh he said, "I cannot even imagine what's going to happen next… I don't even know if Lokomotiv will play this season and if fans would want to embrace another team, when the wound in their hearts is so fresh. You need to ask people this question."

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