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Russian Ice Hockey Team Mourned And Remembered

By Theodora Filis

Wednesday, September 7, 2011, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, one of Russia's leading ice hockey teams on their way to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, crashed just after take off from Yaroslavl airport. Players from 10 nations were killed in the crash, a total of 44 people were killed out of 45 on board.

Among those on board was newly-appointed head coach Brad McKrimmon, who recently arrived from Chicago Black Hawks to take charge of the team for the 2011-12 season. Two members of the World Championship-winning Czech team of 2010, Jan Marek and Josef Vasicek, were also among those in the crash.

The cause of the accident is still unknown. Initial investigtions exclude technical problems, however, sources in the flight administration are saying adulterated kerosene was on board. For Russia, the accident comes at a very bad time, as Yaroslavl is currently hosting an international conference by President Dmitri Medvedev to highlight its technical progress.

“The Jak-42 airplane is a state-of-the-art aircraft ” said the Czech Republic’s conservative paper, Lidove Noviny. “How come that the machine the team was flying on was worth less than the team? I would even say, it was worth less than a single player from the team. The machine was only cleared for flying to the end of September and had only scrap value even prior to the accident.”

René Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation in Switzerland, said “The tragedy isn’t contained to Russia, it is a tragedy for the global hockey community.”

The ice hockey team of Lokomotive Yaroslavl belongs to Russia’s national railway company (therefore the Lokomotive in the name) and had been placed third in last year’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). The KHL is a joint league for teams from five countries: Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia, and Slovakia. Upon the news of the tragedy, the season’s starting game between last year’s champion Salavat Yulaev Ufa and runner-up Atlant Moscow Oblat was stopped and cancelled. The season’s start has been postponed indefinitely and no games were played.

The homepage of Lokomotive Yaroslavl has been closed down except for the entry page held in black. Fans of Lokomotive had gathered at the stadium after the news of the crash as the city's church bells rang out in mourning. The people of Minsk laid floral tributes at the stadium where the team had been bound to play.

This tragedy is still under investigation and the entire Yaroslavl community is working closely with investigators, government officials and club executives. “We are working to find an appropriate way to honor this club and begin the healing process from the deep loss so many of us feel today.”

President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, will chair a meeting on the 12th of September concerning the fate of Lokomotiv Hockey Club following last Wednesday’s tragedy. Taking part in the meeting, with the head of state, will be the heads of the Kontinental Hockey League, the Russian Hockey Federation, the Sport Ministry, the Russian Railways company, the Yaroslavl regional government, HC Lokomotiv and supporters of the Yaroslavl team. 

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