-- The Dallas Stars
will honor the memory of defenseman Karlis Skrastins
in two ways this season.
The 37-year-old defenseman, who was one of 44 people to die in last Wednesday's plane crash in Central Russia that wiped out the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv KHL team, had spent the previous two seasons with the Stars.
Dallas players will wear a No. 37 decal on the back of their helmets to honor their fallen ex-teammate. The Stars are busy preparing for the start of training camp later this week in Prince Edward Island, but it's not hard to tell that much of the roster remains in a state of shock about Skrastins' untimely death.
"It's just a tough situation to talk about, knowing he was here four or five months ago," Stars captain Brenden Morrow
said. "It (the decal) is just something that we'll wear to honor him and keep him in our memory and his family in our thoughts and prayers."
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Added defenseman Stephane Robidas
: "I think it's just a good idea. He was part of the team the last two years. He's been a really good teammate. I think that tragedy kind of touched all of us. If we can remember him in a way, I think that's a great thing to do as an organization and all the players on this team."
One player who got to know Skrastins especially well last season was forward Adam Burish
, whose locker stall was next to Skrastins'. Burish, in his first season in Dallas, quickly developed a friendship with the known as "Skratch."
"To be honest, that's probably the least you can do to honor a guy that went in such a sad way. You just feel for his family," Burish said. "You feel for his wife and feel for his kids, just absolute sadness to lose a guy like that. I'm sitting next to him in the locker room for a year. He was a guy that sat next to me and a kind, kind person, someone that you want to say it's not fair that he's gone, that he had to go that way."
However, that's not the only way the Stars will honor him. Veteran defenseman Brad Lukowich
, who had assumed Skrastins' No. 37 when he decided to return to Russia, decided to give up those digits as another way to honor his former teammate.
That move didn't surprise any of his fellow Stars.
"That's not a surprise. Luko's such a standup guy, a great leader and great teammate that it doesn't surprise me one bit that he's doing that," center Toby Peterson said. "I think it's a good thing for him to be doing."
"Anyone in that situation would hopefully do the same. Luk's a real good team guy and I think he realized the symbolism of it," said Morrow.
Both gestures are a way to remember Skrastins and the two seasons he was with the Stars. And even though he had left the club to play in Russia this summer, the affable veteran defenseman's personality is something that will endure in the Dallas room even in the wake of his absence.
"I think his personality (is what I'll miss the most)," said forward Jamie Benn
. "He was a pretty quiet guy. He was a pretty funny guy. He brought a lot of laughs to our team. I think every guy has something good to say about him and a lot of good memories of him."
Burish in particular remembers the good-natured ribbing Skrastins would usually endure from his teammates after a typical night.
"After a game, he'd blocked 30 shots and you knew it hurt. Every time he'd come off, we'd always be asking him, where'd you get that one, Skratch? Did it hurt? He'd say, no I'm OK. You wonder what's wrong with this guy. He's a robot," Burish said. "I know it hurts. I just got hit with one myself. I know it hurts. Just the way he would have this smirk off the side of his mouth and just laugh at us and say he's OK, we'd try to get him to laugh or tell us he hurt and he'd just give us a little crooked smile and say, 'I'm OK guys, don't worry about me.' So that was always kind of funny."