The hockey family is a tight-knit community, and that is never more apparent than in times of great tragedy.
Sept. 7, 2011 was one of those times.
On that day, a plane carrying Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, a professional hockey team in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, crashed shortly after take-off. The plane was headed to Minsk, Belarus to kick off the 2011 KHL season.
The accident killed 45 people: players, coaches, team personnel and members of the flight crew. It goes down as the single biggest tragedy in the history of professional hockey.
Among those that died were former Blues players Pavol Demitra and Igor Korolev.
“The St. Louis Blues have lost two members of our family, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families,” Blues President John Davidson said in a statement after the crash. “Pavol and Igor were both incredibly passionate and dedicated players and their influence in St. Louis was not only felt on the ice, but throughout the community.”
Demitra played in eight seasons for the Blues (1996-2004), recording 204 goals and 289 assists (493 points) in 494 career games. He ranks fifth all time in franchise history in points (493), sixth in goals (204) and second in game-winning goals (45).
Demitra's career spanned 16 NHL seasons. He was wrapping up his hockey career with Lokomotiv at the time of the crash. He is survived by wife, Maja, and children Lucas and Zara.
Korolev was drafted by the Blues in 1992 and spent two seasons with the club. In 147 games with St. Louis, he tallied 10 goals and 33 assists (43 points). He last appeared in the NHL in 2004, playing in more than 700 NHL games.
Korolev was in his first year as an assistant coach with Lokomotiv. He is survived by his wife, Vera, and two daughters, Kristina and Anastasia.
To honor the memory of both players, the Blues held a pregame tribute prior to the Nov. 8 game vs. Chicago. Some of Demitra and Korolev’s former teammates joined the ceremony, including Keith Tkachuk, Brett Hull, Geoff Courtnall, Curtis Joseph and Scott Young.
"St. Louis was like a home for Pavol and me," Maja Demitra wrote in a letter that was read on Tuesday. "We spent seven beautiful years there. (Pavol) used to say that his best NHL years were in St. Louis because everything was just perfect...the organization, the fans, the players and their families."
Hull, who played with Korolev, said "Igor had a great work ethic and a smile that could light up any room. He would have been a great coach, because he was a great man that cared about people."
This season, Blues players are wearing a No. 38 decal on their helmets to honor Demitra and Korolev. Both players wore No. 38 for the Blues during their tenures.
During Tuesday’s game, Blues players wore a special patch on their jerseys. The jerseys were auctioned online to raise money for the Demitra / Korolev Fund. The Fund was established to offer children in St. Louis and Europe a chance to play hockey by paying registration fees or purchasing hockey equipment they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford.
The Blues also unveiled a mural honoring both players that will reside permanently at Scottrade Center outside Section 125.
Each family was also presented with a framed photo collage Tuesday to commemorate each players' Blues career. Courtnall, a close friend and former teammate of Demitra, accepted the gift on his family’s behalf.
Said Blues broadcaster John Kelly, "They were not only great players, but true gentleman who wore the No. 38 on their Blues jersey with pride and honor."