International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel called it the “darkest day in the history of our sport.”
Reaction poured in from all corners of the hockey world Wednesday following the crash of a Russian jet carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team. Forty-three people died in the crash, including Canadian coach Brad McCrimmon.
“This is a terrible tragedy for the global ice hockey community with so many nationalities involved,” Fasel said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with family and friends of the victims.
“Despite the substantial air travel of professional hockey teams, our sport has been spared from tragic traffic accidents. But only until now.”
The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said the Yak-42 crashed in sunny weather immediately after leaving an airport near the city of Yaroslavl, on the Volga River, 240 kilometres northeast of Moscow.
The plane was scheduled to travel to Minsk, Belarus, where Lokomotiv was to open its Kontinental Hockey League season against Dynamo Minsk on Thursday.
Players and coaches from 10 different countries died in the crash, including former NHL players Pavol Demitra, Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek and Karlis Skrastins.
“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 who at one time excelled in our league,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “Our deepest condolences go to the families and loved ones of all who perished.”
Added New Jersey Devils president Lou Lamoriello: “Nothing could prepare the hockey community for the devastating news it received today. The tragic plane crash involving Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League has left all of us beyond words.”
Alexander Vasyunov played for the Devils last season while Rachunek was with New Jersey in 2007-00.
The 52-year-old McCrimmon played 18 years in the NHL for Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Hartford and Phoenix before moving behind the bench.
He became Yaroslavl’s head coach in May following three seasons as an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings. His contract had expired with the NHL team and the sides parted mutually.
“We know he wanted to see what it was like being a head coach,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom told reporters in Detroit. “He wanted to do that in Russia. We all wished him well when we heard the news. We knew he would try and move up in his coaching career.”
A number of Canadian players currently play in Russia, including former Montreal Canadiens defenceman Brent Sopel. He signed with Metallurg Novokuznetsk over the summer and tweeted shortly after Wednesday’s crash: “In shock. Prayers out to all of the KHL families.”
The KHL halted its season opening game between Salavat Yulaev and Atlant midway through the second period after receiving news of the crash. A statement issued by the league called for patience while it decided how to proceed with the 2011-12 season.
“This is the darkest day in the history of our sport,” said Fasel. “This is not only a Russian tragedy, the Lokomotiv roster included players and coaches from 10 nations.”
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl is one of 24 teams in the Russian-based KHL. It was founded in 1959 and is a three-time domestic league champion.