From some of the earliest days of the franchise, Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile talked about his dream that players ultimately would settle into Middle Tennessee during their playing careers, remain here after those careers to raise their children and become productive everyday citizens.
Presumably, that meant that eventually those same players would perish here.
Of all the things that had to happen ahead of schedule.
None of the following players actually were in Nashville at the time, but in just more than a week the franchise lost three alumni — Wade Belak, Karlis Skrastins and Josef Vasicek — and one prospect — Robert Dietrich — in two stunning, virtually unthinkable incidents.
Belak took his own life in a Toronto hotel room, and the other three were members of a Russian hockey team, all of whom were lost when their plane crashed shortly after takeoff as it was bound for its season-opening contest.
The Predators have not been around long enough to retire anybody’s number, yet the organization’s members and their supporters have to mourn a handful of losses in such short order.
At this point — as far as one franchise official is concerned, at least — the start of the 2011-12 season can’t come soon enough.
“One of the great things about being on a team — in any type of sports — is that it’s a team,” Poile said. “… You’re sometimes able to leave a lot of your problems behind when you get together on the ice. … When you get into a family atmosphere and you’re able to talk these things out, I think it kind of brings some kind of closure and allows you to move on.
“From that standpoint, I can’t wait until training camp starts so that we can all be together.”
That includes the fans.
The players will have their time in the locker room, the weight room, the training room and every other place they spend time together to sort through their feelings and manage their memories.
Ultimately, though, that support system has to extend to those in the seats. That makes the Sept. 24 preseason game (the first at home) against Winnipeg, which also lost a player this offseason, an important moment for the franchise.
No doubt, team officials will come up with some way to remember Belak, Skrastins, Vasicek and Dietrich on that day. A moment of silence, a video tribute, some designation on jerseys, the boards and/or the ice all make sense.
While the players have no choice but to move on and continue their careers and the progression of the franchise, it is important to make sure that the fans never forget.
The Predators recently embarked on a series of renovations and improvements at Bridgestone Arena designed to enhance the fan experience throughout the venue. Those plans now ought to be amended to include some sort of tribute wall, kiosk or whatever where fans can learn a little about these players and others who follow them. Like it or not, death now is a significant part of the Predators’ history. It should not be ignored.
Truth is, this is not the first time the franchise suffered a loss. In 2002, forward Alexandre Krevsun (a 1999 fourth-round draft choice) sustained a brain hemorrhage and died during a training run with his Russian club.
Krevsun never really made an impact locally to the degree that Belak and Skrastins did, but he played in Milwaukee (one season) as Dietrich did. Vasicek spent less than a season with the organization, but there’s no telling how many autographs he signed or the number of hands he shook in that time.
None got the opportunity to extend their stay in Nashville — or anywhere else, for that matter — as Poile envisioned. Still, that does not mean they should not have a permanent place here too.