Updated: 02/13/09 03:52 PM
Sabres players, Ruff shaken by tragedy
By Mike Harrington
Among the eyewitnesses to the crash of Continental Flight 3407 were several members of the Buffalo Sabres, who reported for their morning skate today in HSBC Arena still shaken by what they saw and heard Thursday night in their suburban neighborhood.
The Sabres meet the San Jose Sharks, the top team in the National Hockey League, tonight at 7:30 and the game will be played as scheduled. Several members of the team live in Clarence Center and the nearby Spaulding Lake subdivision in Clarence.
"I heard the plane coming," defenseman Teppo Numminen said. "I was in my bed and I heard it and thought it sounded really weird, really close to us. Then I heard a little poof afterwards and I was thinking, "That doesn't sound good, doesn't sound right.' So I looked out of my window and I saw the red sky and I knew something was wrong."
"I heard the fire trucks and amublances coming and I remembered that it was pretty bad weather when I was driving home for dinner," added defenseman Jaroslav Spacek. "I thought maybe it was some car accident or something happened but I turned the news on and I saw the plane crash and I was like, "Wow.' I looked at the window and saw the flames. It was scary.
"You saw the smoke and they were talking about a small plane and then you hear 50-80 people might be on it and you're thinking, "Wow, that's not a small plane at all.'‚" Spacek and defenseman Toni Lydman both said they got frantic text messages from relatives in the Czech Republic and Finland to make sure they were OK.
"My wife's sister was texting us," Lydman said. "She's been to our place, so she knows how small Clarence Center actually is. They were worried. It was really too close, you know."
"We talked to each other in the neighborhood to make sure everybody was OK," Spacek said. "It's a big tragedy for everybody. You think about how big the country is and something happens like that 800 yards from your home. You've got to think about it. Everything stops. It's not about hockey. It's about the lives and about the people here in Buffalo first."
Backup goaltender Patrick Lalime said his brother-in-law was visiting his home less than a mile from the scene and saw the plane on its descent.
"He just ran inside and he was scared because it was coming down," Lalime said. "We thought something would happen and a couple seconds later we saw a big ball of fire not even a mile down the road. .‚.‚. As we went back outside we saw fire everywhere and we called 911 to make sure. They already knew what happened."
Speaking in a voice choked with emotion, a red-eyed coach Lindy Ruff said he addressed the team before its morning workout about keeping the game in perspective.
"It's an incredibly sad day for our city and we've talked about it that this is going to reach and touch a lot of people," said Ruff, who lives a couple of miles from the site in Clarence. "You've got to get through it. It's an area where a lot of us live. Everybody is going to know somebody that's touched by this. It's a tough day for Buffalo. First and foremost, it's all about the families of the people that were lost and all our feelings go out to them first. When it comes to something like this, it's a tremendous tragedy."
Ruff did not hear the plane but said he heard the sirens of first responders racing to the scene.
"I heard the sirens and watched [TV] till 1:30 in the morning," Ruff said. "It was incredible, surreal at times. You think maybe it's just something small [and then] ending up as big as it was. This is bigger than sports, it's a lot bigger. [Tonight's game] is way on the back burner right now. I know we have to play a game but something this big touches way too many people."
Several players said they had to address the situation with their children because all of the schools in the Clarence area were closed today.
"You're thinking about a lot of the guys. They live in that area where it happened and they were very, very close to it," said captain Craig Rivet, who lives in Clarence but was not aware of the incident until he awoke this morning. "You just don't know what to say or think. It's just very tragic. There's a lot of people right now that are shaken up. It's something you never really think will happen to you or to your community."
"It's like a bad dream," Lalime said. "You see all the cops still there. The street is still shut down. You just have a lot of thoughts for the families."