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Two former Blackhawks among 43 dead in Russian plane crash

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Updated: November 9, 2011 12:13PM

What started as a day of promise and new beginnings for a Russian pro hockey team turned into one of the most tragic events to shake the sports world in recent memory.

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League — a team coached by an aspiring head coach from Canada and filled with former NHL players and prospects — boarded a plane Wednesday afternoon and departed for their first game of the season against Dynamo Minsk on Thursday.

Their plane crashed just after takeoff, killing 43 of 45 people on board. Among those killed were 36 members of Lokomotiv, including players, coaches and staff.

“It’s kind of a scary moment — a whole national tragedy,” Washington Capitals winger and Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin told reporters in Washington.

“This is the darkest day in the history of our sport,” International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel said. “This is not only a Russian tragedy. The Lokomotiv roster included players and coaches from 10 nations.”

Former Blackhawks defenseman Alexander Karpovtsev and center Igor Korolev were assistant Lokomotiv coaches and among those killed in the crash. Both players spent time with the Hawks in the early 2000s.

Officials said the crash occurred on the Volga River about 150 miles northeast of Moscow and 10 miles east of Yaroslavl. The plane, Yak-42, was built in 1993, and belonged to a small Yak Service company. An investigation has been launched to discover the cause of the accident.

“We stand together with the entire KHL, NHL and hockey world in mourning [Wednesday’s] tragic news concerning the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team,” the Hawks said in a statement. “The tragedy affects the Blackhawks family directly as we mourn the losses of Alexander Karpovtsev and Igor Korolev, two players who spent time with our organization and that our fans know well.”

Also killed was head coach Brad McCrimmon, who was an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings the past three seasons and had played 18 years in the NHL. Former NHLers Pavol Demitra, Karlis Skrastins and Ruslan Salei were notable members of Lokomotiv, a three-time champion.

The Russian crash conjures memories of the many other sports-related plane crashes, such as the 1970 crash that famously took the lives of 36 Marshall University football players.

It also awakens the concerns many professional athletes have about traveling despite frequent flying being part of the routine of the NHL, NBA and MLB.

“We fly so much, you just basically pray every time that something doesn’t happen,” Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “We’ve had scares, have had to make emergency landings. A couple springs ago, I was trying to get back after an off day [and] had to make an emergency landing.”

Cubs infielder Jeff Baker, recalling his time with Colorado Rockies, said the flights in and out of Denver always come with extra concern.

“A storm was coming in, we were going to [Washington D.C.]. It was one of those things where by the time we got the airport, we were the last flight they were going to clear out,” Baker said. “We had a private plane that our team owner owned — good shape, the whole nine yards. I remember drinks hitting the ceiling, flight attendants sitting down, buckled up.

“On a different flight one time, we were landing, trying to get in before a storm. I remember seeing our flight attendants buckled up hugging each other. I was nervous.”

For the NHL, the crash was another tragic moment in an already somber summer. The hockey world was already mourning the publicized deaths of enforcers Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak.

Told about the plane crash during an interview with the Hockey News, Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said, “This is the worst summer ever for hockey.”

In Russia, candlelight vigils were being held in memory of those who died in the crash. Officials said Russian player Alexander Galimov survived along with a crew member.

Contributing: Associated Press, Daryl Van Schouwen, Gordon Wittenmyer

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