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Skrastins set then-ironman mark for NHL defensemen

by Mike G. Morreale
Defenseman Karlis Skrastins will go down as one of the most dependable and calming influences along the blue line throughout his 13 seasons in the NHL.

Following a productive NHL career that spanned 832 games with four different teams -- including a then-NHL record streak of 495 consecutive games for an NHL defenseman -- the 37-year-old Skrastins decided to sign a contract with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the Kontinental Hockey League last May.

On Wednesday, Skrastins was among those on board the Yak-42 passenger plane that crashed near Yaroslavl in Central Russia. The aircraft was on its way to the Belarusian capital Minsk. Lokomotiv, Russian champions in 1997, 2002 and 2003, was on its way to play a game against Minsk HC Dinamo on Thursday.

Skrastins, who is survived by his wife, Zane, and two daughters, Karolina and Laurena, was selected by the Nashville Predators in the ninth round (No. 230) of the 1998 Entry Draft. He spent four full seasons in Nashville, four with the Colorado Avalanche and two with the Florida Panthers before signing a two-year contract with the Dallas Stars in July 2009.

"The Nashville Predators' organization shares the pain and suffering being felt throughout the hockey world today following the tragic plane crash in Russia involving the team Lokomotiv Yaraslavl. Included on the team were two former Predators' players -- Karlis Skrastins and Josef Vasicek -- along with Robert Dietrich, a 2007 draft choice who played two seasons in Milwaukee and remained on the club’s reserve list.

"On behalf of the organization and our fans, our hearts and prayers go out to the families and friends of all the passengers on board. Karlis, Josef and Robert all made contributions to our organization, for which we will forever be grateful. They were all playing the game they love, had so much more to offer and have left us far too soon. We offer our deepest sympathy and condolences to their families at this most difficult time."

"He was a really nice guy and great family man," fellow Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas said. "There isn't a single bad thing to say about him."

Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk released the following statement Wednesday:

"The Dallas Stars family is shocked and saddened by the passing of Karlis Skrastins and so many other young lives in a plane crash in Russia today. Our thoughts and prayers are with Karlis' wife Zane and his two daughters, Karolina and Laurena, as well as all of the families and friends who lost loved ones on the plane. Karlis was a wonderful father and husband, as well as a good friend. He will be greatly missed."

In February 2008, Skrastins was traded to the Panthers for Ruslan Salei, who was a teammate of his on Lokomotiv and also died in Wednesday's crash.

"I am still in disbelief about today's tragic news," said Colorado Avalanche Executive Advisor/Alternate Governor Joe Sakic, who was a teammate of Skrastins and Salei. "Both Karlis and Ruslan were unbelievable individuals and great teammates. They will be sorely missed. My condolences go out to their families and all those affected in this tragedy."

During his most recent stint in Dallas, Stars forward Adam Burish praised Skrastins.

"Scratch has got that veteran presence," Burish told the Stars website last February. "He's always calm. He's always poised. He's like another goalie back there. He's always getting in the way of shots. He just knows how to play."

The rugged 6-foot-2, 208-pound Skrastins led the Stars with 139 blocked shots while chipping in with 3 goals and 8 points in 74 games in 2010-11.

"He's an absolute warrior and plays as hard as anyone does and through a lot of pain," Burish said. "He gets a lot of bumps and bruises and for a teammate, you earn a lot of respect that way."

Skrastins played in 80 or more games six times in his NHL career, including five straight 82-game campaigns while playing for Nashville and Colorado. He played in 495 consecutive games before a knee injury sidelined him in February 2007. His ironman mark for defensemen stood until last year when Jay Bouwmeester of the Calgary Flames set the new standard.

Internationally, Skrastins represented his native Latvia in three different Olympics, including the 2010 Games when he served as the captain for the team. Each summer, Skrastins would return to his home in Riga, Latvia, to be with his wife and children.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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