Darkest Day in the History of Our Sport
Posted By: Aaron Sims
What a sad, sad day yesterday.
The horrible plane accident that killed 43 people, the majority of whom were hockey players for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, has punched the hockey world in the gut. It’s another blow to a sport that has lost special young men already this summer.
On the plane were former Admirals Karlis Skrastins and Robert Dietrich.
I never had the pleasure to meet Skrastins. The amount of lovely sentiments from those who knew him, including many Admirals fans, is so great. He was, clearly, a special gentleman.
I did know Robert.
However, while I knew “Dieter” pretty well, his teammates and coaches knew him better. I would see him at the rink and when we were traveling, but his teammates were his support system (and vice versa, as you’ll read). I figured the best thing to do was to reach out to a number of them and see if they would comment for this blog.
I don’t know why I was surprised by the responses I received, but I was. One of the things that stood out to me was the number of his friends that spoke about his smile. Young men usually don’t want it to be known that they notice things like that in other young men. It’s some stupid, macho thing. But I received that sentiment from so many.
I want to sincerely thank all of the friends that were so quick to share their thoughts and memories about “Dieter”. This has not been an easy summer for those who love hockey. If nothing else, we’re all figuring out how we can heal together.
Before I get to the comments of Robert’s friends, coaches and teammates, I want to throw in a couple tidbits.
In 2010, you’ll remember, Robert took part in warmups in Peoria. When the game started, there was a commotion at the Admirals bench. Robert’s last name was misspelled “DEItrich” on the lineup card. Peoria’s bench pointed that out and Robert wasn’t allowed to play in the game. He sat by me in the press area at Carver Arena. I asked him what happened and he explained it to me, adding “I’ve only been here two years.” He grinned as he said that.
One day, I was chatting with Robert about fighting. I don’t remember who the Admirals were playing the next night but I jokingly offered him “20 U.S. dollars” if he would get into a fight with the smallest guy on the other team. He grinned that grin and said something to the effect of “the U.S. currency isn’t worth that much.” It was pretty funny.
We’ve had a number of players that speak English as their second language. Some are rather shy to do interviews because they don’t want to sound stupid. Robert never sounded stupid and was always willing to chat.
I want to extend my most heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and fans of Robert, Karlis and all the others.
Here are the comments from some of Robert’s former teammates and coaches, beginning with his defensive partner in Milwaukee, Scott Ford:
Scott Ford (2008-Current): It’s hard to put into words what I’m feeling. It’s just a tragedy. We were partners for the better part of two years. We called each other “partsy”. He always opened a conversation with, “Hey Partsy, how ya doing?” He lived below me and we often went to the rink together. He was always upbeat and happy. He was “my little speedboat”…I could get the puck to him and let him go. He was the small, skilled guy and I was the bigger, defensive guy. We complemented each other very well. He was a great teammate and a great kid. He’ll be missed.
Drew MacIntyre (2009-2010): The main thing with him was that smile. He was just a kind, kind person. When I came back to Milwaukee for the first time (I think) with the Chicago Wolves I didn’t start but entered the game in relief. We tied the game and forced overtime. Robert scored the game winner. We joked about that for awhile. He was just a kind kid who would do anything for you. There were funny stories when we played together, but we had some fun playing against each other, too.
Kelsey Wilson (2006-09, 2010-2011): I’m shocked. I just posted a picture of me and him in the autograph corner on his Facebook page. A couple years ago, when I played in Austria, I got to Salzburg in late June/early July. I didn’t have any friends and didn’t know where to go. I was feeling pretty lonely. Robert was visiting his girlfriend’s grandparents who lived just 90 minutes away. We chatted on Facebook and he said he’d come and show me around. He spent a day showing me around. I’d only played with him the year before. That was pretty special to me.
Mark Santorelli (2007-2011): I’m still in shock at the passing of Robert. He was a great hockey player and an even better person and friend. He will be greatly missed. My thoughts and prayers are for his family and friends during this tragic time.
Nolan Yonkman (2006-2010): What a crazy summer. Robert was always a guy that had a smile on his face. Sometimes, it's tough for players in their first year in North America. With Robert's personality, he was able to handle the transition pretty well. He really carried himself well. Even though he didn't speak English as his first language, he always communicated well. He loved being out with the guys. His smile was infectious. He'll be missed.
Jon Blum (2008-2011): Playing cards with him on the bus is a great memory. He was one of the best card players I’ve ever played with. He always had a smile on his face.
Chris Mueller (2009-current): My thoughts and prayers go out to “Dieter’s” family. I am still in shock and speechless. “Dieter” was a great kid and an even better friend and teammate. I still remember how mad I would get at him on the bus because he always beat me in cards. “Dieter”, you’re in my prayers. You’ll be missed.
Andreas Thuresson (2007-2011): One of the nicest guys on the team the years we played together…such a great person. We spoke a couple times this summer. I can’t believe he’s not with us anymore. My thoughts and prayers to all his family and friends.
Lane Lambert (Assistant Coach 2006-07, Head Coach 2007-2011): We knew Robert was a good player as soon as we saw him. He was very intelligent on the ice. But the best thing about him was his infectious smile and his joy for what he was experiencing in life. This is a sad day for everyone that had the privilege of knowing him.
Ben Guite (2009-2010): “Dieter” had this great smile that always cheered me up. He was always there for his teammates and was a great person to be around. This is a tough pill to swallow.
Mike Santorelli: (2007-2010): I am completely devastated to hear about the passing of Robert. Not only was he a great hockey player, but a great friend and teammate. He will be dearly missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.
Mark Dekanich (2008-2011): He was a great player, great teammate and was great with his dogs. He’ll be dearly missed.
Ian Herbers (Assistant Coach 2009-Current): I’m still in shock. It seems like just the other day that Robert was helping my youngest daughter with her German over dinner at a team function. It always seemed like he had a smile on his face. He even had that big smile on his face when he was encouraging his teammates to get the two points as he was kicked out at the start of the game in Peoria when we misspelled his name on the lineup card. He was a competitive, skilled, puck-moving defenseman. The opposition would run at him every game and he would do that little spin move to escape and make a good first pass. One of my favorite clips was of him scoring an overtime goal and jumping into the glass…celebrating. The pure joy on his face…It was a pleasure working with him every day. This is a very sad day.
Cal O’Reilly (2005-2010): He was a great guy. My biggest memory was playing ping pong with him before and after every practice. We would have great matches. It’s a sad day in the hockey world. My condolences to his family and friends.
Mark Van Guilder: (2008-current): “Dieter” was a truly good guy…a very good hockey player but an even better person. I was very fortunate to play with Robert for a year and get to know him.
Hugh Jessiman (2008-2010): Tears well up in my eyes as I think about Robert. He had a good soul. He would come over and have dinner with my roommate, Tim Ramholt, and I in Milwaukee. I remember him for his smile, his competitiveness and the pleasure it was to be around him. I’m so sad for his family. He was a great kid.
A couple final notes…
1) There was a rumor former Admirals forward Ramzi Abid was on the plane. He did tryout for the team, I’m told, but he ended up going back to Austria.
2) Looking at the pictures on Facebook that fans have been posting of Robert and Skrastins is pretty amazing. So many fans have had access and have become friends with professional hockey players in Milwaukee. It really shows how special this organization, its players and its fans are.
My best to you all.