Czechs mourn hockey players killed in Russian air crash
News that three Czech ice-hockey players died in a plane crash in Russia Wednesday stunned their home country where ice hockey is the most popular sport alongside football.
Jan Marek, Josef Vasicek and Karel Rachunek, all world champions, died with their teammates from Russian top-flight team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl shortly after their plane took off from the local airport for the first game of the season.
"We were shocked by the news of their death," said Czech ice-hockey association chief Tomas Kral.
"They were not only excellent players, but also fantastic friends and people. This is how they will be remembered," he added.
The 31-year-old center Marek and the 32-year-old defenceman Rachunek were world champions from 2010, while the 31-year-old center Vasicek had a world title from 2005.
Rachunek played for the Ottawa Senators, the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils in the NHL, while Vasicek won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 before moving to play for the Nashville Predators and the New York Islanders.
Alois Hadamczik, the Czech national team coach, told the Impuls radio station that Marek had wanted to give up the Russian career and return home after becoming father to a son earlier this year.
"I've run out of words because you can't say anything about this," he said.
Vladimir Vujtek, the Czech coach recently hired by the Slovak national team, who had won two Russian titles with Yaroslavl in 2002 and 2003, was equally shocked.
"It's terrible. I had a lot of close friends there, we used to meet with their families... and I coached the boys until half a year ago," he told the CTK news agency.
Slovakia's ice-hockey also suffered a painful loss as veteran center Pavol Demitra was killed in the crash too.
The 36-year-old former NHLer of the Ottawa Senators, St Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks fame won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for the NHL's most gentlemanly player in 2000.
© 2011 AFP