Nearly 10 weeks have passed since the devastating plane crash that killed 36 members of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team and took the lives of 44 people total. Despite the passage of time, San Jose Sharks forward Michal Handzus still holds a heavy heart for the loss of his former teammate and good friend Pavol Demitra.
The last time that Handzus saw Demitra was at a charity event to raise money for wheelchair-confined children.
“He was always doing stuff like that,” Handzus said, “That’s why everybody loved him.”
Handzus first learned of the crash that claimed the life of his friend while at his home in Slovakia. His wife called to tell him there had been a crash, but details were still sketchy at the time. Handzus remained calm, believing his friend hadn’t been on board.
“But then I learned that they were going to their first game, and that was when I realized,” he said. “I knew.”
Handzus and Demitra grew up in different cities in Slovakia and didn’t know one another growing up. But that changed when Handzus became a member of the St. Louis Blues in 1998 and Demitra took his fellow countryman under his wing.
“I was a young guy who didn’t know what to expect,” said Handzus. “I was by myself. But he watched out for me and was such a big help. Those were some of the best years I’ve ever had in the NHL. He was a huge part of my career.”
Handzus and Demitra played together for three seasons with the Blues, as well as on several national teams for Slovakia. Handzus was the best man at Demitra’s wedding and Demitra was present when Handzus got married this past summer.
The close bond that the two shared makes the tragic loss of Demitra and the rest of the members of the Lokomotiv team even more personal for Handzus.
“Nothing has changed,” he added. “I play hockey and forget what happened for a little bit, and then suddenly it hits you again. You just don’t believe it’s true.”
Handzus received special permission from the Sharks to attend Demitra’s funeral and be there to support his family.
“It was important to me because I needed to be there to honor him,” he said.
Handzus continues to honor the memory of his friend and the Lokomotiv hockey team by wearing a red “Love for Lokomotiv” wrist band on his right wrist. Those same red wrist bands will be sold this Thursday on the HP Pavilion’s main concourse when the San Jose Sharks host the Detroit Red Wings, who also lost several members of their extended family in the crash, including former assistant coach Brad McCrimmon. The wrist bands will be sold by the Sharks’ wives and girlfriends with proceeds of the bands, which cost $10 apiece, going toward the families of the victims. Donations can also be made at www.loveforlokomotiv.com
HWB is participating in “Movember” to raise funds for Pancreatic Cancer Research. Make a difference, make a donation.