Ice Hockey: Russian ice hockey in mourning after plane crash

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The start of Russia's ice hockey league season has been postponed in the wake of Wednesday's plane crash which killed at least 44 people including members of the three-time Russian champions Lokomotiv team travelling to their first match of the season.

The tragedy happened when a Russian jet crashed on takeoff at an airport outside the central Russian city of Yaroslavl,

A police source told Interfax that the stricken plane suddenly started listing to the left and crashed about 500 metres (yards) away from the Tunoshna airport.

"According to the latest data, there were 45 people on board -- 37 passengers and eight crew. Forty-four people died in the crash and one person survived," the official told the RIA Novosti news agency.

Later reports said that Yaroslavl player Alexander Galimov and one of the stewards survived the accident. Reports however said that Galimov had suffered 80 percent burns.

The survivors were rushed to the local hospital.

Lokomotiv's recent signing from the NHL outfit Detroit Red Wings, Belarus international Ruslan Salei had a lucky escape as he had travelled to Minsk earlier.

Initially the Continental Hockey League (KHL) elected to go ahead with the scheduled first match between reigning champions Ufa and last season's runners-up Mytishchi.

But after details of the full extent of the accident were confirmed the match was stopped with 5 min 16sec remaining before the first intermission.

"In such a situation the players of both teams considered playing after their friends and collegues died to be absolutely impossible," KHL president Alexander Medvedev announced.

The decision about the new date for the start of the KHL season will be announced later.

The local capacity 10,000 crowd at Ufa Arena held a minute's silence in memory of the players who died in the crash.

The head of Russian ice hockey federation Vladislav Tretiak said the ruling body would do everything to restore a top class hockey team in Yaroslavl, which will play in the KHL in the name of those, who died in a jet crash.

"Our federation will do everything to restore a top flight hockey team in Yaroslavl," Tretiak said. "I believe all the league's (KHL) teams will help Yaroslavl. It will be a kind of a monument to those, who died in a crash."

"Yaroslav hockey lovers should have an opportunity to see the game, they love so much, at home."

Russian sports and tourism minister Vitaly Mutko also said that his ministry will take all necessary measures to restore a top flight hockey team in Yaroslavl.

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl were scheduled to start their new KHL season on Thursday with a match at Minsk against local side Dynamo.

The club, which was founded in 1959, won the Russian title in 1997, 2002 and 2003, clinching the league's silver medal in 2008 and 2009.

Yaroslavl also won bronze medals of the Russian league in 1998, 1999, 2005 and 2011.

Czech players Josef Vasicek, Jan Marek and Karel Rachunek were on Yaroslavl's roster this season along with Stefan Liv of Sweden and Slovak Pavol Demitra.

Canadian manager Brad McCrimmon was coaching Lokomotiv this season.

In 1979 Soviet football league top flight club Pakhtakor Tashkent also died in a jet clash, when their plane crashed into another plane at a height of 8500 metres over Ukrainian town Denprodzerzhinsk.

The league authorities also decided to rebuild the team allowing the club to pick two players from the other clubs in the league.

The league also protected the club as Pakhtakor were guaranteed they would not be relegated in the next two seasons.

© 2011 AFP

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