Lokomotiv Yaroslavl has played one full KHL season since a tragic plane crash claimed their entire team, including head coach and former Flyers defenseman Brad McCrimmon, in September 2011. Now, they're continuing to turn the page on the tragedy, and part of the rebuilding process has come to our back yard ... in Manheim, Pa.
The AP's Dan Gelston -- you may also know him as their Flyers beat writer -- has a phenomenal feature out today on Lokomotiv's continued rebuilding process, being led by former NHLer and new head coach Tom Rowe, an American. Rowe served under Peter Laviolette as an assistant coach with the Carolina Hurricanes, and now he's tasked with bringing the Gagarin Cup, awarded to the KHL's champion, to a still-grieving but also still-demanding hockey city.
[Team president Yuri] Yakovlev told Rowe he needed to accomplish two things in the first season back in the big leagues: Win and develop young players.
"The pressure that comes with coaching this team is probably more pressure than a lot of teams in the KHL, maybe even some teams in the NHL," Rowe said.
Led by forward Sergei Plotnikov and center Artem Anisimov (of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who played during the NHL lockout), Lokomotiv went on a nine-game winning streak over October and November. Lokomotiv, a three-time KHL champion, finished 34-18 and lost in the first-round of the playoffs.
"Everybody understands how important it is for this team, the people, the city," Kruchinin said. "It's a big responsibility."
That "develop young players" part is why the team has called Amish Country home this spring, in particular the sleepy village of Manheim, home to fewer than 5,000 people.
Steve Saunders, one of the elite athletic trainers in the U.S., runs one of his nine Power Train Sports Institutes in Manheim. He's worked with everybody from Avalanche goalie Seymon Varlamov to Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, and now the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl squad.
We'll see if it pays off next season for the club, which put together an impressive (especially given the circumstances) 34-18-0 record before being eliminated in the first round of the 2013 Gagarin Cup playoffs. And hey, maybe someday it'll pay off for the Flyers, too:
It's not all power lifts and Google searches. Kruchinin's Twitter feed is dotted with pictures of players in the pool, chilling on a bench with dozens of Nike, Gap and DKNY bags at their feet, and a maze of rollercoasters at Hershey Park. They also attended a Philadelphia Flyers game. After the game, some players told Rowe they wanted to play for the Flyers.
He'd like them to bulk up like the old Broad Street Bullies.