I don't know if he was fan or friend, but shortly after the Capitals took the ice to skate this morning, a man in the stands waved Alex Ovechkin over to the tunnel that splits the Kettler bleachers.
At first I thought he was asking for an autograph. But the two briefly exchanged words, and Ovechkin leaped back onto the ice and shouted over to Stanislav Galiev and Dmitri Orlov, who had just gotten onto the bench.
Ovechkin spoke with them for a moment, and Galiev, who had been standing, immediately sat down on the bench. Ovechkin left the ice and went back to the dressing room. A few seconds later, Orlov and Galiev followed him to the dressing room.
The news of the plane crash that killed most of the KHL team Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, coaches, and of course flight crew had just hit Twitter about 10 minutes before the Capitals began their morning skate. The man had been telling Ovechkin about the tragic accident.
The Russians took a few minutes in the dressing room to collect their thoughts, perhaps make some phone calls back home, and they returned to the ice about five minutes later.
Ovechkin, I think, put on a brave face for the two young Russian rookies. During a scrimmage, he was his usual self, hollering after scoring a goal. Galiev was visibly upset throughout the skate, but seemed to be comforted by the recent arrival of friend Cody Eakin, who joined practice for the first time today. Orlov was reserved, but focused his attention on the task at hand.
Ovechkin did leave the ice much earlier than his teammates. He returned to the bench in regular clothing while the skate was still going on, and spoke some more with Galiev and Orlov, as well as Jeff Halpern. While he was talking with them, Halpern was shaking his head in disbelief.
All three Russians had friends or national teammates on the flight. Nicklas Backstrom and Tomas Vokoun also had friends on board the plane.
Right now, it shouldn't matter if these players ever made it to the NHL or not. These men were fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, and friends. In a truly horrific offseason, we mourn the lives of those lost today.