Like all of the Capitals and Penguins Thursday night, Tomas Vokoun will wear a jersey with a patch and a sticker on his helmet in memory of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, the KHL team that perished in a September plane crash.
The two clubs have teamed up to raise money for the families of the Lokomotiv organization by signing and auctioning off the jerseys postgame. Across the NHL and in both of these rivals’ dressing rooms, players lost friends and teammates.
Vokoun knew several Lokomotiv players who died in the plane crash, including Josef Vasicek, who was one of his best friends. The Capitals’ 35-year-old goaltender declined to speak publicly shortly after the crash occurred, but on Thursday morning, with the teams set to honor Lokomotiv, an introspective and noticeably moved Vokoun reflected upon the tragedy.
Vokoun said he and Vasicek met back in 2002, then were roommates when their time overlapped in Nashville. His wife and Vasicek’s girlfriend became good friends and the two visited each other every summer in the Czech Republic. Vokoun knew others as well, including Pavol Demitra, Karlis Skrastins and Ruslan Salei.
“So I knew a lot of people, some of them I knew more than others. But still when I went back this past September, I consider Josef’s family like my family,” Vokoun said. “It was so hard to see his parents and obviously his girlfriend and everybody. Such a tragedy — when somebody dies like that and they’re 30 years old, full of life. He was supposed to be getting married and all that so it’s not an easy thing to understand.”
For Vokoun, who is expected to start tonight in Pittsburgh, being on the ice has served as a good way to compartmentalize his emotions.
“It more gets to you when I go back on the computer and I see my friends’ name and realizing you’re never going to be talking to him again. Text messaging with his girlfriend and stuff like that. That’s when you feel it the most,” said Vokoun, adding that he and his wife have been trying to help Vasicek’s girlfriend cope with the loss.
As for the fundraiser the Capitals and Penguins put together, Vokoun said anything that can be done to help the families is an important gesture.
We’re “trying to help any way we can,” Vokoun said. “This is not going to be fixed. It’s impossible. But we can just try to make it a little bit easier for everybody involved.”