Remembering Karel Rachunek, 1979-2011

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - FILE: Karel Rachunek #28 of the New Jersey Devils looks on against the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at the Prudential Center on February 13, 2007 in Newark, New Jersey. According to reports September 7, 2011, Karel Rachunek, a former NHL player, died when a plane carrying the KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team crashed after taking off near the city of Yaraslavl in Russia. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Hockey fans from around the world were horrified and saddened to hear of the tragic reports of a charter plane carrying the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team crashing while en route to the team's season opener in Minsk. Forty-five passengers were on board, and there were only two survivors, including one team member and one crew member. The general reaction was fairly uniform: Intense sadness, disbelief, shock, and the other emotions we go through when such an unexpected tragedy strikes.

It affected all of us, but Ottawa Senators fans would have been doubly affected when they noticed some of the names of players who were, at some point in their careers, members of the Senators organization, including Karel Rachunek, Pavol Demitra, and Vitaly Anikeyenko. For most people, Demitra's name likely jumps out first among that group, and for good reason: He put up 768P in 847 NHL GP, plus some incredible numbers in the KHL last season, and some legendary performances in international play, as well.

For me, though, Rachunek's name really caught me off guard. He was never the most well-known defenceman on the Senators' roster, and few took notice of him too much, but his smooth skating and terrific passing ability always impressed me. He was one of my favourite Senators players through the first half of last decade.

In parts of five seasons with the Ottawa Senators, Rachunek had what ended up as some very good numbers, scoring 11G and 86A in 246GP with the Sens. He stands today as the seventh-highest scoring defenceman in modern-day Senators history.

For the most part, Rachunek played alongside Wade Redden patrolling the Senators blue line. Although people's memories will likely be drawn to the fact that those two were on the ice for Jeff Friesen's decisive goal in the 2003 Eastern Conference Final, they were an impressive puck-moving pairing and are one of the best offensive defence pairings for the team.

I don't know why, but I was drawn to Rachunek. I never understood why he was unceremoniously traded at the 2004 NHL trade deadline for Greg de Vries; it seemed like a step backward at the time, and I was disappointed to see my then-favourite defenceman dealt to another team. Watching him was something else, and his seemingly effortless skating was something that always impressed me.

Obviously, my thoughts are with the families, friends, and fans of all the players who died in Wednesday's crash. But Rachunek, as one of my favourite Senators players, really stood out for me.

A good Senators memory of Rachunek: His four-assist night during Ottawa's 11-5 drubbing of the Washington Capitals.

New Jersey Devils forward Patrik Elias was hit hard by news of the crash. He was a close friend of Rachunek.

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