This may be the most touching piece of hockey writing I have read in a long, long time. Jeff Miller of the Orange County Register catches up with Salei's widow Bethann and his three children, daughters Alexis and Ava, and son Aleksandro.
Mama never really had cared if her little boy played hockey. That was her husband's life, Bethann Salei always figured, and a 4-year-old shouldn't have to worry about doing anything more than being a 4-year-old.
But everything changed in September when that plane fell from the Yaroslavl sky, taking 44 of the 45 souls onboard. Now, it mattered. The game mattered. Hockey mattered. A father's memory depended on it.
So, to get little Aleksandro back on the ice after the accident, after he had decided he didn't want to play the game anymore if his papa couldn't play the game anymore, Bethann had to bribe him.
With a balloon.
Every day before practice, for three weeks, they would stop at Pavilions, buy two balloons — one for Aleksandro and one for his sister, Alexis — go outside, allow the strings to slip through their hands, tickling their tiny fingers, and watch as the balloons floated away.
Higher and higher and higher still, until finally disappearing.
"It's gone, mama," Aleksandro would say then. "Papa caught it."
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