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Czech, Slovak hockey stars among victims of plane crash: officials

PRAGUE/BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Three Czech ice hockey world champions and a Slovak great were among the victims of a plane disaster that killed dozens north of Moscow Wednesday, officials said.

The disaster was feared to have killed 43 people on the charter flight carrying one of Russia's top ice hockey teams, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, form Tunoshna north of Moscow for a Continental Hockey League (KHL) match in the Belarussian capital Minsk.

The three Czechs were Jan Marek, Karel Rachunek and Josef Vasicek, all stars of the national side that won the world championship six times since 1996, the Czech embassy in Moscow said.

"This is a shock; Not only were they excellent hockey players but also great friends and people," said Czech ice hockey association chief Tomas Kral on news website www.idnes.cz.

The Slovak foreign ministry said there was one Slovak victim, and that the only Slovak national on the passenger list was Pavol Demitra, a Slovak forward who led the national side at last year's world Championship.

Rachunek, who turned 32 in August, played for Ottawa Senators for three years starting in 1997, and later for New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. He scored an equaliser against Sweden seven seconds from time in the 2010 world championship semi-finals which the Czechs eventually won.

Marek, 31, had become a popular forward in the KHL, playing initially for Magnitogorsk before joining Yaroslavl.

Vasicek won the Stanley Cup with Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, and scored the final goal in the Czech Republic's 3-0 win against Canada in the world championship final in 2005.

Demitra, 36, was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 1993 and later played for St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, and Vancouver Canucks to close his last NHL season in 2009/2010.

He was Slovak national team captain during this year's IIHF world championship in Slovakia, where he retired from the national squad. Demitra expected this season for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to be his last one as professional player.

"It is a great tragedy. I would like to erase this day from my life. To wake up in the morning as that day wouldn't even be," said Lubomir Visnovsky of Anaheim Ducks.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Martin Santa, editing by Justin Palmer)