I wanted to write about Igor Korolev today. Of all the people who were lost in that terrible plane crash of yesterday, Korolev was not only the player whose card I had scanned and at the ready, he was also the player I spent the greatest amount of time watching. I liked Igor as a player. I still do. He was skilled and smart and absolutely perfect for the 2-3 centre role that the Leafs had him in.
Then I noticed that an old piece of mine about Korolev had been retweeted. While it’s not as robust as what I was thinking of today, it covers 4/5 of the territory. That’s what happens when you’ve been writing these things for a while. You repeat yourself and retell the same old stories. Maybe it’s a sign of age.
I wrote the Leaf of the Day series in one form or another for about five years. I must have done about 700 of them, maybe more. I don’t know how many times I told the same stories. There are only so many variations you can tell.
I always thought it was kind of a valuable exercise, though. At its base, it was about showing off cards, which is fun. More than that, however, I found it was a way to keep names in the current discussion. Many fans watching hockey now never saw the players of the 70s and 80s and certainly not the 50s and 60s. They were barely recognizable as names, much less as players or people. On blogs or message boards, people would disparage the old teams without ever really knowing what any of them were about.
By picking someone and talking about them in the context of something in today’s news, it helped to say that a) we’ve seen all this before and lived through it, so chill, and b) here’s something that maybe you haven’t seen before. I could write the 30,000th column on Luke Schenn’s rookie troubles, or I could talk about Gary Nylund and get to the same place.
I’ve always been a fan of history, fascinated by people and stories and how they lived and what they did. Ultimately, it comes down to the study of memory – what we remember and how we do it and why we either want to or should. For all that nothing ever gets lost on the internet, it amazes me how little we really remember and how little time we spend even trying. I think it’s unfortunate. If we do no other thing for people, I think we should remember them. Not only can we learn something that might allow us to be a little smarter in what we do, it’s the least they deserve.
A year or so ago, the Leafs and Jays both went on this history kick where they’d be honouring someone or other before every game (this is quite siginficant in Toronto, which is generally lousy at appreciating its own history). Some of the choices seemed kind of odd – they’d bring back the checking line from 20 years ago – and by the end of the season, I think people were kind of tired of the whole exercise.
It was important, though. A lot of people got a moment in the sun they might not have had otherwise and it’s always better to honour people while they’re still around to be honoured. Things happen, often suddenly, and it’s better to have taken the time to say thanks before its too late and the opportunity is gone.
Today we’ve lost the opportunity to properly celebrate Igor Korolev, a hockey player, a coach and a family man. Igor loved this city and this country, enough so to take out citizenship here and really embrace it. Thoughts and prayers to his family and his friends.
I wish I could say something for everyone on that plane. They all deserve it.
This was very poignant. Take a moment to read it.