Latvia mourns death of ice hockey star Skrastins

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The Baltic state of Latvia was in mourning Wednesday with news that ice hockey star Karlis Skrastins, 37, was among the victims of a plane crash in Russia in which 43 people were killed, including members of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team.

Latvian President Andris Berzins described the catastrophe as "a black day for Latvian sport."

"We have lost an outstanding athlete, one of the bulwarks of the Latvian national team, Karlis Skrastins. He will remain in our hearts forever as an iron man and a Latvian patriot," Berzins said.

Skrastins's death was confirmed by Foreign Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis, who described Skrastins as "one of the brightest stars of Latvian hockey who knew how to win hearts on both sides of the Atlantic."

Hockey is the national sport in Latvia and top players such as Skrastins receive the same sort of adulation football stars might enjoy in Italy or Spain.

A defender known for his toughness and durability -- which earned him the nickname "iron man" -- Skrastins represented his country 84 times.

Born in Riga, Skrastins began his career and made his National Hockey League (NHL) debut in 1998. He represented the Nashville Predators, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars before switching to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and signing for Lokomotiv in May.

© 2011 AFP

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