Kris Letang is the latest young athlete left trying to make sense out of a tragedy a little too common in the NHL.
His best friend, 21-year-old Vancouver Canucks defenceman Luc Bourdon, was killed on Thursday in a motorcycle accident near his hometown of Shippagan, N.B.
"Three days ago, we were talking about his motorcycle, and I never thought it would happen," Letang, also 21, said after he and his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates finished practice yesterday. "I still can't believe it."
Bourdon's death was the latest of too many tragedies involving young men and fast, dangerous vehicles.
It does not seem that long ago that the Atlanta Thrashers and the NHL were mourning the loss of Dan Snyder, who died in 2003 after a sports car driven by teammate Dany Heatley crashed.
Four years before that, Steve Chiasson resisted the pleas of Carolina Hurricanes teammates not to drive home from a season-ending party and he died in the ensuing crash. Dmitri Tertyshny of the Philadelphia Flyers died later that year in a boating accident.
It is a tragic thread that has run through the NHL for generations.
Pelle Lindbergh of the Flyers, the best young goaltender of his day, was killed in 1985 when he lost control of his sports car. St. Louis Blues defenceman Bob Gassoff, one of the toughest players in NHL history, was 24 when he crashed his motorcycle and died in 1977 after another of those season-ending parties.
When the Penguins and Detroit Red Wings observe a minute of silence in honour of Bourdon tonight before the fourth game of the Stanley Cup final, they will stand under a banner in memory of Michel Brière. The 21-year-old was the Penguins' brightest young star when he died in a car accident.
Even when due caution is seemingly exercised, there is still tragedy. Red Wings defenceman Vladimir Konstantinov and the team masseur, Sergei Mnatsakanov, took a limousine rather than drive to a team party celebrating the Wings' 1997 Stanley Cup title. But the driver fell asleep at the wheel and drove into a tree.
The crash left Konstantinov and Mnatsakanov permanently disabled. The driver later pleaded guilty to driving with a suspended licence at the time of the crash.
The only common denominator for these tragedies is that those left behind have to try to make sense of it all. Now there is another one, and both teams in the Cup final can relate to it.
Gary Roberts played for the Hurricanes in 1999. He was the host of the party the night Chiasson died and tried his hardest to make Chiasson wait for a taxi.
"It was something I'll never forget," the Penguins' winger said yesterday. "Nobody forgets those situations. You try to deal with it and move on as best you can.
"We were all just shocked over it. We spent a lot of time that summer reflecting over it and wishing things turned out differently. We all tried to do the right things the night Steve had his accident. It is a lot to overcome for, No.1, the family, and then the teammates and the organization."
Three days ago, Letang came to 42-year-old Roberts for some advice.
After talking to his friend Bourdon, who had recently learned to ride motorcycles and just bought a large, powerful one, Letang was thinking about buying his own. He asked Roberts what he thought.
Roberts told him not to, that motorcycles were too dangerous, especially for the inexperienced.
"We knew it was dangerous, but he had fun with it," Letang said of Bourdon. "I know he didn't, like, speed with it. He just had a bad move or something. Those things, you have no second chance."
The police think a strong gust of wind pushed Bourdon while he was riding on Thursday . They also think his inexperience was a factor in losing control of the motorcycle and veering into the path of a tractor-trailer.
Letang, who is from Montreal, met Bourdon in the QMJHL, where they spent two years playing for the Val-d'Or Foreurs. They quickly became best friends and roommates and won a gold medal together for Canada at the 2006 world junior championship.
"He was someone I could always talk about my tough times and someone that always liked to have fun," Letang said. "He was a really funny guy. He was a guy who always stuck up for you and was always there for you."