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Pavol Demitra, Karel Rachunek, Stefan Liv
09/07/2011 7:28 AM - -- A plane crash near the city of Yaroslavl in Central Russia on Wednesday afternoon has claimed the lives of 43 people, according to Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry. The majority of victims were members of the Kontinental Hockey League club, Lokomotiv.

Lokomotiv's main roster, plus four players from the youth team, was on the plane, according to officials.

"The whole team was on the plane," Vladimir Malkov, Lokomotiv's spokesman, said in comments broadcast on state television.

The Locomotiv roster was full of players with Grand Rapids and NHL ties, including three former Griffins. Forward Pavol Demitra starred during the team's inaugural 1996-97 season before becoming the first of 117 Griffins to advance to the NHL. Defenseman Karel Rachunek was a member of the 1999-00 squad that reached the IHL Turner Cup Finals, and goalie Stefan Liv won 15 games for Grand Rapids in 2006-07.

Demitra, Rachunek, Liv, coach Brad McCrimmon, defenseman Ruslan Salei, forward Josef Vasicek, forward Jan Marek, forward Alexander Vasyunov and defenseman Karlis Skrastins are among the confirmed fatalities.

Eight crew members are also among the dead, according to Russian emergency management officials.
The KHL suspended all games until Monday, a five-day hiatus for mourning. They also vowed that the Lokomotiv team would be rebuilt in time to compete in this season's games.

KHL President Alexander Medveded said Thursday that he will ask each team in the league to volunteer up to three players each toward a draft pool for the new Lokomotiv team. Such a move would give Lokomotiv 40 to 45 players from which to choose a new roster.

Lokomotiv would also promote a handful of players from its youth team to be part of its senior team.

According to reports, Pyotr Vorobyov will be named the new coach. Vorobyov was coaching the Lokomotiv junior team and also coached the senior team to its 1997 Russian Superleague championship.

The crash, one of the worst in the history of sports, occurred at 4 p.m. Moscow time and the weather was sunny and clear, according to reports. Officials have said the plane overshot the runway during takeoff at the Tunoshna airport as it struggled to gain altitude.

Investigators spent Thursday morning trying to reach the plane's black boxes, which contain the flight data. The boxes are located in the tail section of the Yakolev-42 plane, which is partially submerged in the Volga. Search and rescue activities halted at 1 a.m. Thursday morning before resuming at 7 a.m.

Two passengers survived the crash, but are in critical condition. One of the survivors is Russian forward Alexander Galimov, who suffered burns across 80 percent of his body. Both survivors were transported to a Moscow hospital on Thursday morning.

The crash had ripple effects throughout the global hockey community.

"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, teammates and friends," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.

"This is the darkest day in the history of our sport. This is not only a Russian tragedy, the Lokomotiv roster included players and coaches from ten nations," International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel said in a statement.

Close to 3,000 mourning fans wearing jerseys and scarves gathered Wednesday evening at the Lokomotiv stadium to pay their respects. There is an official memorial scheduled for Saturday at the team's arena.

Many of the players in Wednesday's crash had ties to the NHL.

McCrimmon played in the NHL and most recently served as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings before taking the Yaroslavl job in May. The Russian Times confirmed McCrimmon died in the crash.

McCrimmon played defense for six NHL teams -- Boston, Philadelphia, Calgary, Detroit, Hartford and Phoenix -- in a 17-year career, appearing in 1,222 regular-season games in the NHL, collecting 81 goals, 322 assists and 1,416 penalty minutes.

He was an assistant coach with the New York Islanders, Calgary Flames, Atlanta Thrashers and the Red Wings. He also served as head coach of the Western Hockey League's Saskatoon Blades.

Defensemen Rachunek, Salei and Skrastins as well as forwards Demitra and Vasicek all spent a good deal of time in the NHL.

Former NHLers Igor Korolev and Alexander Karpovtsev were assistant coaches for Lokomotiv. Karpovtsev was one of the first Russians to get his name on the Stanley Cup after winning the trophy with the New York Rangers in 1994.

According to the reports on the crash, the plane, a Yakovlev Yak-42 passenger jet, went down and caught fire shortly immediately after taking to the air, crashing less than 2 kilometers from the airport.

The short- and medium-range Yak-42 has been in service since 1980. This particular plane has been in operation since 1993, according to officials, and had one of its engines replaced last month.

The plane was en route to Minsk, Belarus, for a Thursday night game against Dynamo Minsk, Yaroslavl's opener to the 2011-12 KHL season.

In the wake of the crash, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for immediate changes in Russia's aviation industry, which has been plagued by poor safety records for several years.

The KHL also announced that it will handle all air travel for its member clubs, a task that was handled by the individual clubs before the accident.

"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," the league said in a statement Wednesday

Russian Ice Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretiak also expressed his feelings on the crash.

"We will do our best to ensure that hockey in Yaroslavl does not die, and that it continues to live for the people that were on that plane," he said.

"Everyone within the NHLPA family is deeply saddened by the tragic passing today of players, coaches and staff from the KHL hockey club, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl," the National Hockey League Players' Association said in a statement. "The club included many former NHLPA members, as well as many members of the international hockey community. Words cannot express the profound sorrow that this loss has created. Our sincere condolences go out to the friends and families who have been impacted by this terrible tragedy."

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, founded in 1949 as the team of the Railways Ministry, is one of Russia's leading hockey teams and came runner up in the Kontinental Hockey League in 2008 and 2009. In 1997 it took the Russian Superleague title and won back-to-back championships in 2002 and 2003. contributed to this story.

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