Hockey world shocked by air crash tragedy

By Simon Evans

MIAMI (Reuters) - The world of ice hockey was in shock and grief after suffering its "darkest day" when a plane carrying the Russian team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crashed on Wednesday, killing 43 people and leaving just two survivors.

"This is a terrible tragedy for the global ice hockey community with so many nationalities involved," International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel said in a statement posted on the federation website

"Our thoughts and prayers are with family and friends of the victims."

The plane was taking members of the Continental Hockey League (KHL) team to a game in the Belarussian capital Minsk when it crashed a few kilometers from the airport at Tunoshna outside Yaroslavl, 150 miles north of Moscow.

Russia's Emergencies Ministry said two people had survived and were in a grave condition.

Lokomotiv's squad includes players and coaches from several countries -- among them Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Germany and Canada.

"Despite the substantial air travel of professional hockey teams, our sport has been spared from tragic traffic accidents," Fasel said. "But only until now. This is the darkest day in the history of our sport. This is not only a Russian tragedy."

Czech players Jan Marek, Karel Rachunek and Josef Vasicek, all members of the national team that won the world championship six times since 1996, had died, the Czech Embassy in Moscow said.


The Slovak foreign ministry said Pavol Demitra, one of their country's top talents, had been on the passenger list and that there had been only one Slovak victim.

Officials also said Lokomotiv's Swedish goaltender Stefan Liv and German international defenseman Robert Dietrich had died.

Lokomotiv's coach, Canadian Brad McCrimmon, was also on the passenger list issued by Russian authorities.

McCrimmon had only joined the Russian club in May after working in the National Hockey League (NHL) with the Detroit Red Wings.

The Red Wings also counted defenseman Rusaln Salei and Liv among their former players.

"It is a huge loss for the hockey world. It's very tragic," said Swede Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit's Norris trophy winning defenseman.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the tragedy affected the entire hockey world.

"Though it occurred thousands of miles away from our home arenas, this tragedy represents a catastrophic loss to the hockey world -- including the NHL family, which lost so many fathers, sons, team mates and friends who at one time excelled in our League," Bettman said in a statement.

"Our deepest condolences go to the families and loved ones of all who perished."

One of the NHL teams affected was the Los Angeles Kings who said in a statement that two former players with the franchise were on board the plane.

"The Los Angeles Kings organization is deeply saddened with the tragic news of this morning's plane crash in Russia that was carrying the members of the KHL's Lokomotiv organization, including former Kings forward Pavol Demitra, former Kings prospect Jan Marek and many other members of the NHL Family," the statement read.

The tragedy even reached Florida, where the NHL's Panthers mourned the loss of three former players.

"The entire Florida Panthers organization is deeply shocked and saddened after learning about today's plane crash....which included the loss of former Florida Panthers Alexander Karpovtsev, Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with all those families who have lost loved ones in this tragic and unfortunate accident."

(This story corrects paragraph 15, making clear Lidstrom is a defensemen for Detroit and not the coach)

(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)