Today’s Feature Friday was supposed to be about Cam Ward, but considering the tragedy that we all have heard and read about on Wednesday, I thought it would be appropriate to look back at the career of former Carolina Hurricane Josef Vasicek, who was on the plane that crashed near Yaroslavl, Russia. “Big Joe,” as fans and teammates lovingly called him, was with his current teammates of the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team on their way to their first game of the season in Minsk, Belarus. Monday would have been his 31st birthday.
Vasicek was drafted 91st overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 1998 NHL Entry draft,. Other Hurricanes that were picked in that draft included Tommy Westlund, Erik Cole and Jaroslav Svoboda. Vasicek ended up playing 6 seasons with the club that drafted him, notching 135 points in 341 games. He played in 37 Stanley Cup playoff games with the Canes, receiving 7 points (5G, 2A). His name is on the Stanley Cup from the 2006 championship team. You can find the official press release regarding the tragedy from the Hurricanes here.
With the news coming out on Wednesday, several former teammates of Vasicek’s tweeted about their fond memories of “The Czech Condor.” Here are some that stood out:
Aaron Ward (@aaronward_nhl): Tough to write this one. Thoughts and prayers to families and friends of players lost. Former teammate Joe Vasicek and others-RIP #brotherhood
Kevin Weekes (@KevinWeekes): Unfortunately I played with Big Joe Vasicek & Karl Rachunek, and played against many players and coaches on that team…
Andrew Ladd (@aladd16): RIP Joe Vasicek One of the nicest guys I’ve played with and always came to the rink with a smile on his face. Gone too soon #canes2006
There was a beautiful article written by Mike Sundheim (Twitter: @MikeSundheim), Canes PR director, yesterday recalling his time with Joe and put into words what kind of a hockey player and person he was, as well as how much he will be missed by friends, family, fans and the entire Hurricanes organization. The piece can be found on the official Carolina Hurricanes site here.
In full disclosure, I started becoming really interested in hockey and the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2000-2001 season, which happened to be Big Joe’s first year playing for the Canes. I had been to a few games before then here and there, but didn’t start falling in love with the game of hockey until my junior year of high school. One of my most memorable moments from Vasicek was during the 2002 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New Jersey Devils, when he scored the game-winning goal in overtime of game 5.
Rest in peace, Big Joe … you’ll always be #63 of the Carolina Hurricanes to so many people and your smile, dedication and passion for the game will be missed by all.