Ducks remember Ruslan Salei, killed in Russian plane crash
Because of reports that initially suggested Ruslan Salei might not have been on the Russian airliner that crashed near Yaroslav on Wednesday, the Ducks held off on issuing a statement on the tragedy and held out hope the Belarusian defenseman might have taken an earlier flight to Minsk, as was first rumored.
But they received word early Wednesday afternoon through embassy and government sources that Salei was confirmed to be among the victims. Salei, 36, maintained a home in Orange County, where his wife, Bethann, and daughters Alexis, Aleksandra and Ava, reside. Their youngest daughter was just born in March.
“The Anaheim Ducks organization is shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of Ruslan Salei. ‘Rusty’ was a fan favorite and dedicated member of the Orange County community since being drafted by Anaheim in 1996,” the Ducks’ statement said. “Our thoughts and prayers go to his wife and three children, along with all of the other members of the hockey community affected by this horrible tragedy.”
Salei is the club's all-time leader in games played among defensemen (594). He scored one of the most memorable goals in team history, scoring in overtime to give the club its first win in a Stanley Cup Finals game (a 3-2 victory over New Jersey on May 31, 2003).
Alex Gilchrist, the Ducks’ director of media and communications, said Salei fell in love with Orange County “and it seemed pretty obvious to me and Ducks fans that they loved him back. He became a big part of the community.”
Returning here was part of Salei’s long-term plans, Gilchrist said.
“He was hoping to play another year or two and come back and become part of the alumni organization,” Gilchrist said. “He was one of those guys who would reach out and call every summer just to say hello and see how everyone was doing.
“We were talking about him in the office last week, talking about guys who come over and have trouble adjusting and about guys like Rusty, who just fit in and adjusted so quickly.”
-- Helene Elliott
Top photo: Former Ducks defenseman Ruslan Salei in 2006. Credit: Jerry Lai / U.S. Presswire. Bottom photo: Ruslan Salei. Credit: Reuters