It has been a summer of hockey related tragedies with the deaths of a group of NHL enforcers. Most recently, the crash of a Russian plane killed almost the whole KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team. While the loss of 43 lives is tragic at any time, people are naturally drawn to stories that are connected to them in some way.
Haunted by a series of tragedies in the hockey world, my mind began to race. I speculated on how the last moments of their lives may have gone. I wondered if they had a chance to think about their friends and families. I thought about how the families they left behind must be devastated, and how their children will be affected.
After considering the terrible effects of this, I soon began to think of the positive impact these men had on the lives of others. I had a chance to reflect on my brief but happy experience involving Igor Korolev.
It was the during the 1997/98 hockey season and my enthusiasm for the Maple Leafs was wearing thin. They had shown life during the ’93 and ’94 seasons but faded in the latter half of the decade. At a chance encounter, I was able to snag autographs on my Leaf jersey from Korolev, Dmitri Yushkevich, Sergei Berezin and Dany Markov, the only Russian born players on the team at the time.
While I have met or run into my share of stars, these are the only autographs I still hold. I have proudly worn this jersey at any pro hockey games that I have been privileged to attend.
While Korolev was with the Maple Leafs for four years, he had a lasting impression on me. Many stars (sports or otherwise) refuse to autograph anything for fear of the recipient selling it. In my opinion the more signatures out there, the better. The dollar value of the autograph degrades with a higher supply AND there is enormous goodwill value.
At 41 years old, Korolev, a number of his Russian countrymen, as well as players and coaches from other nations (including Canada), were taken from us far too early in their lives. Unbeknownst to Korolev, he renewed my appreciation for the Leafs, and I will always remember the treatment that fans received from the young Russian.