Karlis Skrastins was a hockey player. He was also a son and a brother. He was a father and a loving husband to a wife and three kids, who are grieving through his death but with the help of the Dallas Stars and their families are healing. He was somebody’s teammate and somebody’s friend. I knew Karlis Skrastins as a hockey player and someone who loved the game like I did. He didn’t skip a turn whenever he was signing autographs for the fans after practices. He made conversation and he touched my heart when he told me how to pronounce his last name. He just grinned at me, told me and signed my Morrow jersey before he left. I didn’t know that day was the last day I would ever see Karlis walked down the corridors of the Stars practice facility in Frisco, Texas.
Over the summer in 2011 and after 11 seasons in the NHL, Skrastins signed a contract with the KHL team, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl on May 17. A few months later on September 7, 2011 he along with his teammates died in a plane crash when their aircraft carrying his team crashed outside of Yaroslavl, Russia. The NHL world was shocked to learn that Skrastins along with Pavol Demitra died on the plane. The Stars players that day were shocked that a teammate, a friend was gone. The news hit the team hard because they knew that Skrastins was not coming back.
Skrastins, a gritty defensive defenseman from Latvia who led the Stars with 139 blocked shots in the 2010-11 season in 74 games, was remembered as a great teammate with a giant heart and a soft-spoken guy. He sacrificed his body when the team was down on the penalty. He will always be remembered as a great guy with a big love for the game.
During the entire 2011-2012 season, the Stars honored Skrastins while wearing the number 37 on the back of their helmet. Then on March 24, 2012 against the Calgary Flames honored Skrastins memory with a video of his life in the NHL and outside it with his wife Zane (pronounced Za-neyh), and three daughters (Karolina, Laurena, and Viviana) who were at the game before the puck drop for this amazing ceremony. The video was hard for me to watch because it brought tears to my eyes but I am glad to say that the Stars did this for Skrastins and his family, who are trying to move on without a significant part of their family in their lives.
Saying goodbye is hard especially for a hockey player who has made an impact on the sport like Skrastins did. I see how his absence has affected the people that did know him so I know that he did matter to them. And I know he was loved. He will be missed and many people will remember him as a great hockey player, who loved the game like we did. Right now he is up in heaven playing hockey with Pavol Demitra, Derek Boogard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak while the rest of the world keeps the memories of those fallen players during the tragic summer of 2011.
Hug your family. Hug your mom and dad. Hug your friends and kids. Cherish those days with loved ones because you may never know when you will spend your last day with them. Karlis Skrastins, you will be sorely missed by me and many of the fans who remembered you as the Iron Man. You will always be remembered as a Dallas Stars in the eyes of the Dallas Stars fans and me.
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