Karlis Skrastins is one of those guys that everyone says "played the right way". He was a dedicated and hard working hockey player who once claimed the title of the NHL Ironman after appearing 487 straight games, a record for a defenseman. He was known not for his offensive prowess but for his ability as a shutdown and solid defenseman who excelled as one of the best in the NHL at blocking pucks.
He was also a husband to Zane and a father to Karolina and Laurena. He was a dedicated family man, working as an NHL player away from his home country of Latvia in order to support his family and had just recently made the decision to play in the KHL after eleven seasons as an NHL player, with stops in Nashville, Colorado, Florida and Dallas.
On Wednesday, along with at least 42 others, Karlis lost his life when the plane carrying the Lokomotiv hockey team crashed shortly after takeoff. The hockey world has been wracked with yet another tragedy, as not only Karlis was lost but Pavel Demitra, Ruslan Salei, Brad McCrimmon, Josef Vasicek and Jan Marek were also among those killed
There are no words to describe the feeling of despair and loss you feel when someone you love is taken away. Too many times in this world we have to find a way to cope with loss and everyone has their own way of dealing with the grief. Sometimes it doesn't matter if the person is close to you or not, you feel that grief deep inside your soul as if you had just lost your best friend. You feel incredible sadness at the thought of the families that are left behind and how suddenly their lives were taken away, gone in but an instant.
These hockey players and coaches played a sport they loved that brought joy to millions. In tough times like these we find ways to cope with our everyday struggles and many of us turn to sports to find joy that is absent in other aspects of our lives. We deal with jobs, finances, school and the stress that comes with them while finding solace in the joy and fun that sports can bring us.
People like Karlis Skrastins make sports fun. He wasn't the most talented player in the league but he was one of the hardest working men in the NHL and he proved it night in and night out. He sacrificed his body to block shots as a defenseman and was other for nearly every game for eleven seasons -- something rarely found these days. Where Skrastins really made his mark was not on the ice, but off of it.
I had the pleasure of meeting Karlis Skrastins last fall. Like many NHL players he was more than willing to stop and chat. I walked away amazed at how humble he was and how quick to smile he was while chatting with me, a genuinely nice guy whose enthusiasm for hockey was infectious. His teammates felt the same way and everyone will remember Karlis as a man who made an impact on their lives just from having known him, how his quiet intensity drove him every night on the ice and his work ethic drove him off it.
Today I found myself affected by the loss of Karlis Skrastins in a way I would not have guessed might have happened. He was no longer with the Dallas Stars and he only played for two seasons in Dallas, yet he will always be remembered as one of the better guys to have set foot in the Stars locker room. Everyone on this team acknowledges the impact he had on them as people and as players and he will be missed by so, so many.
I only had the pleasure of talking to Karlis Skrastins for just a few minutes and only watched him play for just two years, but the impression he had left upon me will last a lifetime.
Here is his finest moment as a Dallas Star:
After the jump, videos of the reactions from the Dallas Stars.