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Player Media Tour begins as tragedy remains fresh

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- NHL stars and executives mingled inside the fashion world Wednesday night during an invite-only party at the swanky Versace Boutique on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan. Players from rival teams bravely put on smiles and swapped stories from their summers while executives such as Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly made their rounds across the third floor of the six-floor store.

The mood was light and somewhat jovial as the League and its stars officially kicked off the 2011 Player Media Tour and unofficially started the 2011-12 season.

However, it was all done in an attempt to mask the fresh and raw emotions still weighing heavily on all of the hockey people at the party, all of whom remained queasy by the fact that, thousands of miles away on another continent, authorities were still sifting through wreckage of a plane crash that wiped out many of their friends and former teammates.

The tragic crash in Central Russia of the plane carrying the KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey club was very much on the minds of everyone in the room.

At least 43 people lost their lives in the crash earlier Wednesday, many former NHLers, teammates and friends of the people inside the Versace Boutique.

"I know lots of guys there and I know the guy that is surviving (Alexander Galimov), and I hope he is going to be alive and good," Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin told "It doesn't matter who you are, the most important thing is to be here in this world. Nobody can imagine that this is going to happen. I'm still in shock. It's scary in this world because you never know what can happen.

"This is not a national tragedy, it's an international tragedy."

Ovechkin was not alone with comments of that nature.

Bettman opened his quick, impromptu remarks soon after the party began with a somber tone, telling everyone, "As we get ready to start a new season, I think it's important we think about the tragedy in Russia. The best thing we can do to honor their memories is to look forward to giving our fans another great season of hockey and to keep them in our thoughts and prayers as we move forward."

Ducks forward Corey Perry, who earlier in the day visited a New York City firehouse, talked to about gaining perspective, both from his visit with the brave firefighters and from the loss the hockey world is now mourning.

One of the victims in the crash was former NHL defenseman Ruslan Salei, who played with Perry in Anaheim.

"Shock," Perry said, using the first word that came to mind when he learned of the crash. "There are no words to describe it. You don't know what to say or think."

Canucks center Ryan Kesler heard about the plane crash from his agent just after he landed in New York Wednesday afternoon. The news hit home for Kesler because one of his former Vancouver teammates, Pavol Demitra, lost his life in the crash.

Demitra was the second former Canuck to die this summer. Rick Rypien was found dead in his Alberta home on Aug. 15.

"It doesn't really hit home yet," Kesler told "You keep hoping it didn't happen. I feel terrible."

The players that didn't know anybody in the fatal crash still felt a deep sense of loss.

"I was at the United Center this morning skating with some of our guys, and every one of the guys that came into the room knew someone on that team," Kane told "You see their reaction -- it is just so sad to see. It's just a sad day."

Kane said he couldn't shake his eerie thoughts as turbulence rocked the plane shuttling him from Chicago to New York on Wednesday.

"You hear about bad weather and then the plane gets bumpy and you think about it," Kane said. "It's definitely something, especially now with this, that I'll be thinking of every time I fly."

Kesler, Ovechkin, Perry and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews all said they feel the same way.

"A plane crash anywhere in the world is big news and is a tragedy; that it was an entire hockey team makes you feel that much closer to it," Toews told "It's gone. Not one or two guys, the whole team. It's just tragic."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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