When the plane carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslav hockey team crashed Wednesday near Moscow, the Maple Leafs lost a linchpin of one of their most memorable teams.
Along with defenceman Alexander Karpovtsev, 41-year-old Igor Korolev died in the crash.
Korolev played with the Maple Leafs for four seasons and potted 60 goals.
A conscientious player, Korolev was a favourite of coach Pat Quinn and operated as the modest, sensible, kindhearted voice in a rabble of Russian player
s that included free spirits Danny Markov, Dmitry Yushkevich, the stoic Karpovtsev and the talented but self-involved Sergei Berezin. When Nik Antropov came to the Leafs it was Korolev who mentored him. Even removed from the team, Korolev, who lived in Toronto but went to Russia to garner coaching experience was a friend to current Maple Leaf Nikolai Kulemin
The Russian posse were an imposing bunch but they bestowed a unimpeachable toughness and humour to the franchise.
Once, a reporter asked Berezin why he didn’t pass more.
“To who?” he said.
Another journalist asked Markov what he said to people who thought that because he was Russian he didn’t understand the importance of the Stanley Cup.
“I say ‘*&%$ #$%^’ he responded cheerily.
That Leaf team lead the NHL in goals, moved from Maple Leaf Gardens to Air Canada Centre and ousted the Pittsburgh Penguins with a Markov salute before falling to Buffalo in the Stanley Cup semi-finals.
Derek King, now an assistant coach with the Marlies, remembered Korolev’s place on that team and in the heart of his teammates, Friday.
The following is King's memories of Igor Korolev:
To say Igor was just a third line centre was to underestimate the talent this kid had. I enjoyed him as a player and as a person but the skill level he had, he could stickhandle in a phone booth.
A lot of times you didn’t get to see that because he was always in that third line centre role where he had to dump and chase and play defensively but this guy had a lot of talent. He was a great hockey player and a great teammate.
In my first year in Toronto, we never had really set lines but in my second year I played with him a little bit until they gave me the kids, Alyn McCauley and Mike Johnson to work with.
As I said, Igor was a gifted player. He knew when to pass the puck and when not to pass it. He knew when to put it deep. He did whatever it took to help the team. He was never worried about his stats.
Everybody loved him. Always a smile on his face through good times in hockey and bad. A great family man. He kept his house here. It just seemed like he enjoyed life everyday and loved living in Canada.
Dmitry Yushkevich and Danny Markov were loud guys. Igor wasn’t a loud guy. He had that little smirk on his face.
Those other guys, Karpsy and those guys were more talkers.
He was probably the head Corleone in the Russian Mafia if you want to call it that. They always played cards together, they sat together on the planes. To me, he had a lot of respect from not just the Russians we had on the team but the Larionovs and Bures across the league.
He was the guy who was the link between the Russian players and the rest of the team. You talk with Yushkevich and Markov and they would be yelling something in Russian and then he would come by and translate and say what we wanted to say to them. They could speak a little English but he was a good buffer. It’s just a sad thing. It’s sickening to think about.
I came down to the rink and Dallas’ (Marlies coach Dallas Eakins’) wife Ingrid said ‘turn on the TV.’ I knew Igor had been playing in Russia but I didn’t know he was coaching. I looked up the roster and saw that he and Karpsy were coaching but I didn’t hear his name right away, I was looking up Hockey DB to find out.
These guys were a good bunch of Russian guys. Good teammates. When they were around that year we went to the semis and we moved from the old building to the new one.
We had a great locker room. There was nobody bigger than the game, whether you were Russian or from Ontario, a Swede or a Westerner, everybody got along. Those are the kind of memories, the kind of people you played with.
I just talked to Cujo (former Leafs’ goalie Curtis Joseph) the other day. He said ‘remember that bunch of guys from that 1998-1999 team?’
He wasn’t talking about how we got to the semis or changed buildings which was a big thing. He remembered the guys, and the times.
You know what I remember? Stretching. There was such a comraderie, everyone together, stretching, just the jabs, the jokes, Markov ‘what was he up to last night?’
It was just a real good time to play hockey and Igor was such a big part of that.