The sport of professional hockey has seen landmark growth in recent years. From successful Olympic events to the growth of the KHL to the NHL’s resurgence on all fronts, brand hockey is probably as strong as a global platform now than ever. However this past summer, the untimely and shocking deaths of several players, from accidents to suicide, and then the tragedy of the Russian plane crash that took the lives of a majority of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl KHL team has cast a pall on the sport, just as all hockey was looking forward to more on-ice business growth in 2011-2012.
In other years, such crisis would slow down and distract the sport. However in the face of such horrible loses this summer, hockey has acted with a unified voice, one of general concern, consistent action and forward thinking, and as a result has probably grown in professionalism and learned from the tragedy more than at any point in the history. The responses to each tragedy this past summer was unified, from the Commissioner’s office to the Player’s Association, and in the case of the plane crash, the IHL and the KHL as well. There were no mixed messages and no indecisiveness. The leadership spoke clearly and with determination to find out the causes of such tragedies and how to assist those effected. There was no misunderstanding, no ambiguidy and no agenda. The agenda was about healing and answers, with each side putting the resources needed to assist. Politics disappeared in each case, and the family atmosphere that pervades the sport more than any other came to the surface.
For the most part there was nary an attempt to use the media for political gain by any party around any of the tragedies this summer as well. That lack of backroom politics is rare in the high stakes game of professional sport, and should be an added plus for when other issues arise at any point that are less life and death. Any issue of tragedies that could be tied to issues like concussions were addressed clearly and succinctly, with the welfare of the player and the sport clearly the first priority. In previous years and even in other sports, that may not have been the cases. Professionalism ruled from the highest level, and the public got a clear sense of the general caring nature that leadership has both for its sport and for its players and families.
While no good can always come of tragedy such as what hockey has seen this summer, the losses, especially those by the KHL this week, served as a string reminder for the character of all those involved in hockey. The game and the people are first, and the politics are second. Going into a winter where the NHL may be the only show in town, that is a strong message to send to business and to the fans, and while it may seem simple, it is not all the time. Sometimes, especially in the 24/7 media world we deal with today, politics and personal agendas rule. That was not the case for hockey this summer on some very dark and tragic days and as a result the sport, and brand hockey, are stronger going forward. Sometimes the simplest, most common sensical ideas are the most effective, and hockey showed its common sense this summer. Well done with great respct by the leadership on all front.