You can ask any Anaheim Ducks fan, or any hockey fan during the early 2000s, what was the defining memory they have of Ruslan Salei and I would be willing to bet the 2003 Stanley Cup Final comes up first 80-90% of the time.
More specifically a shot taken by Salei, atop the circle, off the faceoff, right over Martin Brodeur’s glove, and underneath the crossbar.
The New Jersey Devils ended up winning the series, but had Salei’s shot been saved or missed, we would have been robbed of a classic seven game series, one of the better series’ in the 2000s.
Ruslan wasn’t a big goal scorer by any stretch of the imagination, but he did save them for when they mattered. Two of his fave playoff goals as a Duck were game winners, and he also added three more during the regular season.
He made his name defensively, and with his physicality, registering over 735 penalty minutes in his Ducks career, becoming a fan and player favorite.
The man known as ‘Rusty’ would have turned 39 today, taken from his family, both related and extended hockey family far too early and in such a tragic way. Just over two years ago, Salei and his KHL team the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s plane crashed while heading to their next game. All players and coaches who were on board perished, including Salei.
Even if it had been five years since he last donned the Duck shield, his memory has been permanently planted in the community. He leaves countless stories and memories to teammates, fans, and journalists alike, including this touching story by Chris Foster who summed up his memories of Salei perfectly.
Todd Marchant had more to add, perfectly summing up how great a teammate Salei was,
“Rusty was great. He was the type of guy, when he came into the room, he could lighten it up with a joke or with just the way he talked. His personality was infectious. He just had this way about him. He didn’t back down from everybody. He was always a guy who would stand up and hold people accountable. He was a great teammate and certainly a great friend. It’s just a tragedy that his life had to end so soon.”
So on Rusty’s birthday, let’s celebrate the time he got to spend on Earth, and the countless memories he left on his friends, family and fans. Let him live on forever in those stories.