Blues' defenseman was teammate of fallen player Pavol Demitra
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It might not sound that way in a normal, ordinary conversation, but Blues defenseman Barret Jackman was sincere when he said he hoped that former Blue Pavol Demitra was injured.
But when the realization came that Jackman's former teammate and friend was one of 43 that perished in the tragic plane crash that took the lives of the KHL's Yaroslavl Lokomotiv hockey squad, shock and sorrow quickly set in.
"I was in disbelief. I didn't want to believe he was actually on that flight," Jackman said of Demitra. "I kept saying to my wife, 'I hope he's injured. I hope somebody in his family was sick at the time and he had to stay back.' I say that in a good way. Until the confirmation came later on in the day, I was holding out hope.
"You're obviously devastated and crushed. I can't think of anybody but his family at this time."
Jackman's career was just beginning with the Blues when the 36-year-old Demitra was in the prime of his NHL career.
Jackman played one game with the Blues in the 2001-02 season but became a regular the following year, playing with Demitra for the next two seasons.
"He was an unbelievable guy, unbelievable teammate," Jackman said of Demitra. "I've never had a negative thing to say about him. It's one of those things where you hate it to happen and it really hits home when it's somebody you knew.
"From the moment I walked into the dressing room, he was very nice, very warm and friendly. He was always joking around with the guys. Europeans sometimes stay on the outside, but he was right in there. He was the heart and soul of the team, had great friends, was like a brother to Walt (Keith Tkachuk) and tight with Dougie (Doug Weight) and Al (MacInnis) and all the older and younger guys. He and his wife were good friends with everyone."
Demitra's career saw him net 304 goals and 768 career points playing for the Blues, Ottawa, Los Angeles, Minnesota and Vancouver. But Demitra left North America, not for greener pastures of Russia but for the love of the game and to help extend his career.
"You're in here and it's a business, but it's also a game that you love and you never take it for granted," Jackman said. "Pav was one of those guys. He made a lot of money throughout his career. ... He never did it for the money, he never did it for fame. He did it because he loved the game and that's the reason he was in Russia.
"You're talking about an all-star type caliber of player and an all-star type caliber guy, father and husband."
Jackman also knew Lokomotiv head coach Brad McCrimmon and has played against a handful of others, including Ruslan Salei, who last played in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings. Blues center Patrik Berglund said he roomed with Swedish goalie Stefan Liv for a couple days playing in a junior tournament.
"It's not just one city or town that's affected by that crash," Jackman said. "Many nationalities were involved. All those guys come from many places and it impacts players, fans, the community. ... Any time it affects a hockey player, it's like family."