19 Apr 1998: Defenseman Ruslan Salei of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in action during a game against the St. Louis Blues at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California. The Blues defeated the Ducks 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Elsa Hasch /Allsport. Photo permission granted.
[Ed. Note: I was struggling with what to write to honor Rusty today. I just don't know what else to say because it still feels unreal This post was a part of Chris' This Week In Ducks History. He captured a lot of what I was feeling. I'm going post a link for donations sometime over the weekend. Hug the ones you love.]
The first installment of our new This Week in Ducks History feature could not have come at a more solemn time. One year ago today, the plane carrying the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team crashed, killing 44 of the 45 passengers aboard including former Mighty Duck Rulsan Salei.
IIHF President Rene Fasel called it "the darkest day in the history of our sport." For those of us who remember Rusty's nine years in Anaheim, his classical grinding style of play and his overtime goal in Game 3 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final, made the shocking news only grew more tragic as time wore on.
First was the possibility that he wasn't on the flight. The team was on their way to Salei's home town of Minsk, Belarus for their season opener. As we learned from subsequent reports, he had considered leaving earlier to meet up with friends and family prior to the game. Of course those hopes were dashed when it was confirmed that he had joined his new teammates on what should have been their first road trip together.
As the tributes poured in, we who cheered for him for nearly a decade were introduced to Ruslan Salei: Family Man. He left behind a wife, Bethann and three kids, Alexis, Aleksandro and Baby Ava who was born only months prior, in March. We learned of a man so dedicated to his family that he had his Huntington Beach house rigged up with cameras so that he could get a slice of home at a whim from more than 6,000 miles away.
According to Alex Gilchrest, the Ducks' Director of Media and Communications, (via Helene Elliot, LA Times) he had plans to return to Anaheim, joining the likes of Scott Niedermayer, Todd Marchant and Jason Marshall, in the small group of former Ducks to take positions with the team and within the community post-retirement. Now, the best we can do is keep him alive with our memories of the goals, the hits and that one time that he got a delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass at the other end of the ice.
Rest in Peace, Rusty. You'll always be a Duck to me.