Hockey World Mourns After Plane Crash

43 killed – including former NHL players – after a plane carrying a KHL team crashed shortly after takeoff.

Ed Millerby Ed Miller

The NHL family had not yet recovered from the two losses suffered last month, before the news of what happened early Wednesday morning surfaced.  But this shook more than just the NHL, it shook the entire hockey world.  A private Russian jet crashed moments after takeoff as it smashed into a riverbank, killing 43, several of whom played were former NHL players playing professional hockey for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Continental Hockey League (KHL).

Russia and the rest of the hockey world were shocked by what had happened and stunned by the deaths of so many professional athletes in one accident.  The International Ice Hockey Federation has come forth stating 27 players were killed, along with two coaches.

For the NHL, a league still reeling from last month’s deaths of Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, the news came early in the morning as several members of the league’s family had been believed to be killed in the crash.  Hours later the first named had been confirmed – Brad McCrimmon.

McCrimmon was appointed coach of Lokomotiv back in May and was preparing for his first season with the club.  Prior to his new gig, McCrimmon was an 18 year NHL veteran defenseman which helped lead to an assistant coach position with the Detroit Red Wings.  Shortly after McCrimmon, more names began to emerge, along with more details.

A Russian television station reported that the plane – a Yak-42 – crashed into the shores of the Volga River, immediately after departing from an airport near the city of Yaroslavl, which is located about 150 miles northeast of Moscow.  It is believed that the plane had troubles gaining altitude, before crashing into a signal tower, instantly shattering into pieces and bursting into flames.

The plane was heading to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where the Lokomotiv were scheduled to play a Thursday game against Dinamo Minsk, in the first game of the KHL season.  Several former NHL and international players were later reported on the flight. 

The most notable was Slovakian national team captain and ex-NHL forward Pavol Demitra.  Demitra spent 16 seasons in the NHL with Ottawa, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Minnesota and Vancouver.  He was a star during his years in St. Louis and finished his NHL career with 768 points in 847 games.  Also on the flight were former Dallas Stars defenseman Karlis Skrastins, Swedish Olympic gold medal-winning goaltender Stefan Liv, former New Jersey Devils forward Alexander Vasyunov and Ruslan Salei, who most recently played for the Detroit Red Wings.

Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek and Jan Marek, all of whom were from the Czech Republic, were also on board the flight.

In total, the plane contained 45 people, including 37 passengers and eight crew members.  The authorities have been unable to confirm the amount dead but two passengers were rescued and are now listed in critical condition.

The news has rocked the sports world and dozens of players have expressed their shock and condolences in the hours after the tragedy.

Russian native and Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin tweeted: “I’m in shock!!!!!R.I.P …”

The Yak-42 has been in service since 1980 and close to 100 are still in use in Russia.  Come next year, the planes will be taken out of service.  But is that not soon enough?  This is the second plane crash in Russia this summer, the first happened back in June, when a Russian passenger jet crashed in the city of Petrozavodsk, killing 47 people.  That crash was blamed on pilot error.  

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press.