Bears

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl prepares for return after tragic loss

834385.png

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl prepares for return after tragic loss

On Sept. 7, 2011, an immense tragedy struck the hockey community when a plane carrying the KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team crashed, initially leaving only two survivors among the 45 players and coaches on board. Five days later, one of those rescued from the wreck, died, leaving flight engineer Alexander Sizov the sole survivor.

The team went from being a member of Russia's top league to playing in the second-ranked Russian Major League (VHL) beginning in December of 2011 and throughout the remainder of the 2011-12 season.

It's been nearly a year since the devastating crash, and the team is ready to rebuild itself on and off the ice.

An August preseason game in the KHL typically wouldn't attract a large crowd by any means, but when Lokomotiv Yaroslavl took the ice this week, over 3,000 people packed the arena to watch the team come back and recover after experiencing so much sadness.

As so much hope and inspiration filled the rink from supporters, new head coach Tom Rowe realized the impact the team had on its fans and the importance of producing positive results throughout the season, both for statistical and personal reasons.

"It's a great inspiration," he said. "I knew Brad McCrimmon the Lokomotiv coach who died in last year's air disaster very well and we have to ensure we have a very good season.

"We want to make the team and the city proud. There's an incredible fan base, and the team and the organization has a lot to live up to."

Lokomotiv's new, young team was unable to beat CSKA in their preseason matchup, but the players showed a high level of on-ice talent and looked promising to those watching from the sidelines.

Former Blackhawks defender Sami Lepisto is one of the latest additions to the team. He had appeared in 26 games for Chicago last season, including three of six playoff games against the Coyotes.

The Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team was establish in 1959 and has since won the Russian Open Championship in 1997, 2002 and 2003.

Charles Leno, Jr. on Harry Hiestand: 'He's getting us better'

charleslenojr.jpg
USA Today

Charles Leno, Jr. on Harry Hiestand: 'He's getting us better'

Chicago Bears left tackle Charle Leno, Jr. has outplayed expectations after joining the team as a seventh-round pick in 2014. General manager Ryan Pace rewarded Leno for his play with a four-year, $38 million extension last offseason, committing to the former Boise State product as the Bears' blindside protector for the immediate future.

Leno joined his teammates at the team's annual Bears Care Gala on Saturday and said new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is going to make him and his linemates better.

"We love Harry, let's just get that out of the way," Leno told 670 the Score's Mark Grote. "Harry is a great coach. I saw what he did for guys that he coached in college and the guys that were before us here in Chicago. He's getting us better."

Hiestand's efforts at Notre Dame produced four first-round picks: Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey. He brings a no-nonsense coaching style back to Chicago, where he last served under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. 

STANKEVITZ: In Harry Hiestand, Matt Nagy hits a home run on his first swing at Bears' coaching staff

Leno enjoyed the best season of his career in 2017. His 80.4 grade from Pro Football Focus was the best of all Bears linemen and his highest overall mark over the last four years. He finished 15th among all tackles graded by PFF last season.

Regardless, Leno still has to impress his new coach just like every other offensive lineman on the roster. The Bears haven't added any competition for Leno, but his fate as the team's long-term answer at left tackle could be decided by Hiestand.

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

4-16mattnagy.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

Despite losing 34 of his 48 games as the Bears’ head coach, John Fox’s players generally liked him and were disappointed to see him fired on New Year’s Day. That’s not to say they were blindsided by it — losing leads to people losing their jobs, even if the culture at Halas Hall had changed for the better following the disastrous end of the Marc Trestman-Phil Emery era. 

It was with that backdrop that Matt Nagy was offered and accepted the position of Bears head coach a week after Fox’s firing. Four and a half months later, Nagy has seemingly made a strong first impression on his new team, with one reason standing out among many: He’s genuine in who he is and what he does.

“I would say Nagy can be stern, and he can be playful also,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think when you’re a first-year coach, you want to win (over) your guys, and you want to be firm, and he’s doing that. You can’t really tell he’s a rookie coach or whatever. I feel like he was born for this, and he’s doing a great job.”

Granted, no player is going to publicly blast their new boss — especially not before he’s even coached a game yet. But veteran players also aren’t oblivious to who can and cannot work out as a head coach, and there haven’t been any “damning with faint praise” types of comments that were more common five years ago at the beginning of the Trestman era.

Will this win Nagy any games come September? No. But consider this sort of like team chemistry: It won't win a team anything, but if a team doesn't have it, it can be costly. 

“He’s a cool coach, man,” linebacker Danny Trevathan — who played for Fox in both Denver and Chicago — said. “He’s always giving us little details and smiling but we know he’s a hard worker just like we are. He’s up there working just like we are. He’s always putting us in the right position and he takes care of us. On the back end, where I come from, you take care of coaches like that. You go out and make plays for those coaches.”

From an observational standpoint, Nagy comes across as genuinely excited not just to be a head coach, but the head coach of the Bears. Players respect that approach — he's not coming in acting like a hired gun, and he's shown through these OTAs and practices that he cares about them, even if they haven't spent much time together yet. And he's also not strutting into Halas Hall every day with an over-inflated ego based on his promotion. That resonates, too. 

“I like the way he came in,” Trevathan said. “He came in humble but he was hungry. He came anxious, moving around in the meetings. I like that. That gets me fired up. I feel like we’ve got a good leader up here in the head coach.”