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Reports: Former Leafs Among Victims Of Russian Plane Crash

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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A plane crash near the city of Yaroslavl in Central Russia has claimed the lives of at least 43 people, according to Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry. The majority of victims are believed to be members of the Kontinental Hockey League club, Lokomotiv.

The crash occurred at 12 noon Moscow time and the weather was sunny and clear, according to reports.

Eight crew members are also among the dead, according to reports. According to Russian aviation officials, two passengers survived the crash, but are in critical condition. According to Sovetsky Sport, one of the survivors is Russian forward Alexander Galimov.

Lokomotiv has confirmed that the entire main roster, plus four players from the youth team, was on the plane.

"We have no team anymore," Vladimir N. Malkov, the team spokesman, said in a telephone interview with The New York Times. "All our starting players, and all the service people, they all burned in the crash."

The agent for forward Pavol Demitra, an ex-NHL star, confirmed that Demitra was killed in the crash in Russia.

"This is just awful," Keator said. "He was such a popular guy with everyone he has ever played with."

The Lokomotiv roster was full of players with NHL ties.

The team's head coach, Brad McCrimmon, played in the NHL and most recently served as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings before taking the Yaroslavl job in May. The Russian Times confirmed that McCrimmon also died in the crash.

Defensemen Karel Rachunek, Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins, as well as forwards Pavol Demitra and Josef Vasicek  all spent a good deal of time in the NHL and were listed on the most current roster on the KHL website. Forward Alexander Vasyunov played in 18 games with the New Jersey Devils this past season.

Former NHLers Igor Korolev and Alexander Karpovtsev were listed as assistant coaches for Lokomotiv.

McCrimmon played defense for six NHL teams -- Boston, Philadelphia, Calgary, Detroit, Hartford and Phoenix -- in a 17-year career, appearing in 1,222 regular-season games in the NHL, collecting 81 goals, 322 assists and 1,416 penalty minutes.

He was an assistant coach with the New York Islanders, Calgary Flames, Atlanta Thrashers and the Red Wings. He also served as head coach of the Western Hockey League's Saskatoon Blades.

According to the reports on the crash, the plane, a Yakovlev Yak-42 passenger jet, went down and caught fire shortly immediately after taking to the air, crashing less than 2 kilometers from the airport.

The short- and medium-range Yak-42 has been in service since 1980. It was en route to Minsk, Belarus for a Thursday night game against Dynamo Minsk, Lokomotiv's opener to the 2011-12 KHL season.

Former Montreal Canadiens defenseman Brent Sopel, who is now playing in Russia, tweeted shortly after the crash: "In shock. Prayers out to all of the KHL families."

The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said the crashed immediately after taking off from an airport near the city on the Volga River, which is approximately 150 miles northeast of Moscow.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has sent his transport minister to the site of the crash, 15 kilometres east of Yaroslavl.

The KHL season opened Wednesday with a game between Ufa and Atalanta, but that game was suspended as soon as news of the tragedy broke.

According to the Russian Times, the heads of the KHL are currently in an urgent meeting to discuss the measures to be taken following the tragic crash and death of the Lokomotiv team. The Salavat Ulaev versus Atlant match, which is the opening battle of the league season, was cancelled by the KHL.

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, founded in 1949 as the team of the Railways Ministry, is one of Russia's leading hockey teams and came runner up in the Kontinental Hockey League in 2008 and 2009. In 1997 it took the Russian Superleague title and won back-to-back championships in 2002 and 2003.

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