Agent Matt Keator was in Russia three weeks ago visiting with longtime client Pavol Demitra.
He watched KHL team Lokomotiv play, had dinner with the team's owner and general manager and said there was a positive buzz around the group.
"There was a lot of energy around those guys," Keator told ESPN.com Wednesday morning. "There was a lot of excitement around the team. They thought they could win a championship."
On Wednesday, a Russian jet carrying Demitra and Lokomotiv crashed into a river bank while taking off in western Russia, killing at least 43 people and leaving two others critically injured. The team was headed from Yaroslavl to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where it was to play Thursday against Dinamo Minsk in the opening game of its season.
"It was a very, very good team," Keator said. "It's just stunning and just awful."
Keator met Demitra when the two were with the St. Louis Blues organization, Keator as a scout and Demitra as a successful player.
"You couldn't find a more popular teammate," Keator said.
"It's just that people were drawn to him."
Demitra was married with two children under the age of 10, a boy and a girl, Keator said.
"These were longtime NHL guys," Keator said.
McCrimmon took over the team in May after serving as an assistant for the Detroit Red Wings for three seasons. He played 18 years in the NHL for Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Hartford and Phoenix.
"It's shocking," Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com. "I think everybody in the hockey community is probably in shock and numb, myself included. I've known Brad [McCrimmon] going back to the late '80s when we acquired him here. He was a real popular player. Then we had him as an assistant coach here. He loved hockey. He was a tremendous guy and wonderful family man."
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.