One of the top Belorussian players, Ruslan Salei was a solid and physical NHL defenseman. His 917 NHL game career was best remembered with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, though he also played with Florida, Colorado and Detroit.
Unfortunately for me, I probably never appreciated Salei for being as good of a player as he actually was. I still tend to remember him for early career controversies where he hit Mike Modano from behind, sending the defenseless superstar awkwardly into the boards. His reputation was cemented early after the scary play and the resulting 10 game suspension. It was a bit of an unfair reputation as for the most part Salei was a reliable and steady physical defender.
Interestingly, Salei and Modano became teammates in 2011, as the Detroit Red Wings sought veteran help from both of them. Even though incident happened 12 years earlier, Salei was certain to make sure there was no hard feelings.
Both veterans were let ago after the season. Salei opted to go to Russia and signed with the KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Unfortunately he never got to play. The team's plane crashed as they prepared to open the season on the road. All but one member of the team perished.
For Salei's family and friends it must have been a heart wrenching moment. Yaroslavl was opening the season in Minsk, Belarus, close to Salei's home. During the early confusion in the breaking news of the plane crash and the team's demise, there were conflicting reports as to whether Salei was on the plane or not. There was some thought that he had travelled earlier, perhaps by car, to Minsk to spend some extra time with family.
Unfortunately, Salei indeed was on that doomed plane. He was 36 years old.
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