Professional hockey players have a tight fraternity. It is glued together through an understanding of the sacrifices and hard work required to be payed to play.
There are hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy playing hockey at all levels and at all ages around the world. The casual participant goes out for an hour or two a week and has a great time. It is a recreational activity that provides a good workout and good company. The same can be said about baseball or soccer or basketball. You can participate for fun and then go to work at your real job.
To get paid and earn your living by playing a sport you have to be one of the elite. You have to have skill,desire and an incredible determination and most of all, you have to love the game.
This summer has been an incredibly hard one for the hockey fraternity. I do not pretend to know why Derek Boogaard's life ended in such a tragic manner. I do know that he was disappointed that the New York Rangers decided not to play him at the end of the season when he had been cleared to get back onto the ice. He wanted to play the game he loved.
Rick Rypien seemed most comfortable around his teammates and on the ice. He kept coming back to the game he loved. The summer is a long time to be away.
I got to know Wade Belak fairly well and when he was at the rink, whether playing or a healthy scratch he was always in an upbeat mood. His injuries no longer let him play the game he loved. Did that have anything to do with his despair?
The two people who I knew best on the ill-fated Russian charter were Pavol Demitra and Brad McCrimmon. Pavol's Vancouver experience did not work out as well as he would have liked but watching him in the Olympics you had a clearer example of what his career had been. He dominated some games and led the tournament in scoring. Pavol would have turned 37 in November.
Somebody asked me after the crash why was he still playing? It was easy after watching him on a daily basis that he wanted to keep playing the game that he loved.
Brad McCrimmon could have gone back to Saskatchewan after his playing days but hockey was in his blood. He wanted to be a head coach and got the opportunity last spring. He wanted to have his own team in the game he loved.
You sit with a feeling of loss and wonder why. We will never really know and even if we did it would not ease the pain.