While members of the Canadian National Junior Team have had plenty to think about prior to their meeting with Russia in the 2012 Canada-Russia Challenge, the sport of hockey was put on hold Wednesday, less than 24 hours before the series opener.
Yaroslavl, the host Russian city for the Challenge series, lost its entire KHL team in a tragic plane crash 11 months ago. The Sept. 7 crash of the Yak-42 plane near Yaroslavl in central Russia killed 36 players, coaches and staff of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team. The only player who survived the crash later died of burns. A flight engineer was the sole survivor.
On Wednesday, Canadian and Russian national team players and coaches took part in a memorial ceremony for those victims, lining up in front of the newly built hockey arena, Neftestroy, where locals have been placing flowers ever since the accident. Huge banners were displayed with photos of players and staff that perished in the accident.
Canada's Murphy hopes third time is charmMike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer
After two years of getting left off Canada's WJC team, defenseman Ryan Murphy is one player who won't require much evaluation. READ MORE ›
Byron McCrimmon, the father of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl coach Brad McCrimmon, who was among those killed in the plane accident, also attended the ceremony.
"I've had the pleasure riding in the front seat every day with Byron McCrimmon, Brad's father, and it was a difficult day for him," Team Canada coach Steve Spott told NHL.com. "We're here to prepare for the World Junior Championship in December and pay respects to the players of the 1972 Summit Series, but we're also here to pay respects to those who lost their lives for the Yaroslavl team last year.
"Having Byron on this trip has been an inspiration to everybody included with our Canadian team. He's a pillar of strength and I think it meant a lot to him to see both teams and both countries pay respects to his son."
Hockey Canada invited any member of the McCrimmon family to join the club on the trip to Yaroslavl, given that there would be a tribute to the Lokomotiv. According to Hockey Canada's public relations department, Byron wanted to accompany the team.
During the memorial ceremony, one Canadian player and one Russian player took turns placing two flowers at the foot of a huge mural on display.
"It prioritizes things in life and to see our boys, who have now gotten to know Byron, and see him in that ceremony," Spott said. "It's a parent's worst nightmare -- and for me, it does put everything in perspective. We play a game, and obviously, it's all-encompassing in our lives. But, ultimately, a day like [Wednesday] does put a lot of things in perspective."
The Canada-Russia Challenge is a four-game series that is being held to help mark the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale