Vasyunov One of 7 AHL Products Lost in Russian Plane Crash

Vasyunov One of 7 AHL Products Lost in Russian Plane Crash

08 Sep 2011 | Gerry Cantlon

The Russian town of Yaroslavl has had it's heart shattered. Yesterday's tragic plane crash that claimed 43 lives has ricocheted around the globe as the hockey community of 10 nations and numerous teams and leagues the players performed in are in deep mourning over this shocking tragedy.

Seven players with significant AHL playing time perished including one of the youngest victims 23 year old Alexander Vasyunov, one of five local products playing on the KHL team. He returned signing a one year deal after three seasons in North America turning down a two-way contract from the New Jersey Devils.

Vasyunov, played a majority of last season with the Albany Devils and getting 18 games with the New Jersey Devils tallying his first and sadly last NHL goal against the Edmonton Oilers at home November 12 of last season.

Yaroslavl, is 250km (155 miles) Northeast of Moscow, the Volga and Kotorosl rivers meet in the industrial city that also is a transportation center in Russia is now the center of national sadness. The KHL has reacted by suspending its playing of games till this coming Monday September 12.

Local products Artem Anisimov and Alexander Vasyunov met on the river of ice on Friday November 21, 2008 for the first time in North America and put on a show in the Lowell Devils 4-3 AHL shootout win over the Hartford Wolf Pack (nee Connecticut Whale) at the XL Center.

Anisimov capped the Pack's second two goal rally in the third period with a powerplay goal deflecting defenseman Corey Potter's blast perfectly with just 6.1 seconds remaining on the clock past Lowell goalie Jeff Frazee to even the game at three.

The two young products of the same hometown born just a month apart, drafted four spots apart were named the games first star (Anismov) and second star (Vasyunov), more than likely an AHL first and then in a true act of sportsmanship met to chat for a few minutes in Lowell's end of the ice after that game to catch up.

"We play together since we were 7 or 8 it was good to see him. He's my friend," remarked Anisimov with a huge smile in the locker room that night.

Yesterday, no smiles could be found as the rain poured down in the New York metro area reflecting the melancholy of the day.

"I know these people, half the team," Anisimov told Jesse Spector of the New York Daily News after a workout yesterday at the Madison Square Garden training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y. "Young guys, we've grown up together, you know? In Russia, they have school – it's one organization, Yaroslavl. You go to the hockey school growing up, play with the second team and then you grow up and play with the first team, so a bunch of young guys I know, and the medical staff, all the staff, I know too. So sad."

"I feel like – it can't happen. I don't want to believe it. The news says plane crash, and I feel sick. I feel bad. Sitting in traffic coming here, I felt terrible."

The two friends created magic on that fall evening almost three years ago.

The first half of the game was all Vasyunov, but Anisimov the second half. Anisimov hit the post at 4:50 of the first period.

Vasyunov was able to backhand a pass to a South Windsor, Connecticut local native playing before his family and friends that night, Jon DilSalvatore who walked out in front for a 2-0 Lowell lead 58 seconds into the period. Vasyunov helped extend the lead to two goals when DISalvatore returned the favor to a wide open Vasyunov in the slot who whistled a wrist shot in at 5:08 of third for a 3-1 Lowell lead.

"He's a very good player with the puck and one on ones," said Anisimov that night no better demonstrated on that play. Vasyunov was denied a goal early in the second period on a defensive zone turnover, but Finnish netminder Miika Wiikman was out on top of the crease to snare his shot.

Anisimov got a chance to play hero in the shootout after tying the game at three goals with a dramatic backhander on their last attempt, but Wiikman was burned for his fourth shootout goal in five Lowell attempts and then Frazee stopped Anisimov bid giving Lowell the 4-3 win.

The two players have always been near each other both drafted in the second round of the NHL draft in 2006 Anisimov the 54th pick by the New York Rangers and Vasyunov the 58th by the Rangers long time local rivals New Jersey Devils.

"We played on the same line for about 10 years," commented Anisimov reflectively. The two played together on Yaroslavl's team in the Russian third division in 2005-2006 and earned some time with the Russian Super League team (now KHL squad) that year. They also toiled on Russia's Under-18 Five Nations tourney team in which Vasyunov garnered top player honors.

The following season Anisimov graduated to the big club while Vasyunov toiled on the second division team picking up 29 points and 16 goals, but they were reunited on Russia's silver medal 2007 World Junior championship squad.

Anisimov made the difficult jump to North America in 2007-2008 as was the AHL's youngest player scoring 16 goals and 43 points in 74 games, but Vasyunov made the jump in 2088-2009 after playing just two games over the first seven weeks with Yaroslavl's KHL team because of the problems between the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and the NHL regarding player contracts.

"He really likes North American play it more fits to his game. He has good hands, he will do well," said Anisimov in assessing his good friend's skill sets.

The two Yaroslavl natives playing rivers did meet again in the NHL in Madison Square Garden and the Prudential Center in New Jersey and Yaroslavl had much to celebrate and now have so much to mourn.

Notes: The other six players with AHL ties included; most prominent was Czech Pavol Demitra (36) Prince Edward island Senators, assistant coach Russian Igor Korolev (41) Norfolk Admirals, German Robert Dietrich (25) Milwaukee Admirals, Swedish Stefan Liv (30) Grand Rapids Griffins, team captain Czech Karel Rachunek, 32, who had a six-game stint with the Binghamton Senators in 2002-03 and Belarussian Ruslan Saleii (36) Cincinnati Mighty Ducks.

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