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Tragic KHL plane crash impacts Detroit's Babcock

by Dan Rosen
Mike Babcock couldn't wait to walk in his front door and hug his three kids late Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm going to hang up on you," Babcock told as he rushed from his car into his house.

Only hours earlier, the coach of the Detroit Red Wings received a harsh reminder of how precious time with family -- his wife Maureen and kids Allie, Michael and Taylor -- actually is.

Babcock's friend and former assistant coach Brad McCrimmon, along with one of his former players, Ruslan Salei, were among the at least 43 passengers that died in a plane crash near the city of Yaroslavl in Central Russia on Wednesday. The majority of the passengers on board were members of the Kontinental Hockey League team Lokomotiv.

McCrimmon was on his way to make his head coaching debut after three seasons of standing next to Babcock on Detroit's bench. Salei was going to make his debut for Lokomotiv after playing for Babcock last season in Detroit and from 2002-04 in Anaheim.

McCrimmon, who was known to his hockey friends as "Beast," leaves behind his wife, Maureen, and kids Carlin, 20, and Liam, 14. Babcock's son Michael attends the same school as Liam. His youngest daughter, Taylor, is the same age as Liam.

Salei, known as "Rusty," leaves behind his wife, Bethann, and three kids -- Alexis, Aleksandro and Ava, who was born in March.

Babcock spent several hours Wednesday afternoon consoling Maureen McCrimmon and her kids at their home in Northville, Mich.

"The first thought I have is obviously shock," Babcock said shortly after leaving the grieving McCrimmon house. "We all fly in our business. We never think of it or worry about it.

"The next thought I have is to hug your kids and do as much with them as you can, don't put anything off until tomorrow because you don't know when your number is going to come up."

Babcock said he didn't immediately think of McCrimmon and Salei when he first learned of the crash Wednesday morning.

"I thought of their families," he said. "You hope everything is in order financially. You hope, but you don't know any of these things. I mean, these are good, good people with great families, and they're going to be missed."

Babcock struggled to describe his time Wednesday afternoon at the McCrimmon home.

"The big thing for me is not about what I felt; it is about what they are going through," Babcock said. "I lost my mom when I was 26 or 27 -- that's not 14 and losing your dad, I can tell you.

"You're devastated for them because their world has taken a turn that you can never anticipate, never want to anticipate and never want to experience yourself. I don't even know what to say. I feel terrible for them."

McCrimmon left Babcock's staff shortly after the 2010-11 season, choosing to leave North America for the KHL because it was his chance to be a head coach.

He left with Babcock's blessing.

"You get to a point where you're tired and you want to do your own thing," Babcock said. "I thought 'Beast' was going to do a great job."

Now he's devastated that his friend will never get that chance.

"It happens in the world, but when it happens in our small hockey community -- it's unbelievable how many NHL franchises were touched today," Babcock said. "But the people that were really touched are the families that are left behind. We're going to mourn for a few days; those families are going to be affected forever.

"I can't even imagine a young child losing their dad. I don't know what else to say than that."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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