- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Before stepping onto the ice for an informal preseason workout Wednesday, Alex Ovechkin learned the awful news: A plane carrying Russian team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League had crashed, killing at least 43 of the 45 people on board.

Word spread to his Washington Capitals teammates, including a couple of others with connections to players who died in the crash.

“I am shocked. It’s very sad,” prospect Stan Galiev said. “I had a couple good friends there from world junior team — I played with them.”

It was the latest dark day in a tragic summer for a hockey community that mourned the deaths of NHL players Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien and recently retired player Wade Belak. Those deaths engendered debate about the role of fighting in hockey and how players might not be getting the necessary support.

Wednesday’s tragedy brought only heartfelt sadness.

“It’s kind of a scary moment,” a clearly shaken Ovechkin said. “It’s a whole national tragedy.”

Several former NHL players, including Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei, Karlis Skrastins and Brad McCrimmon — Lokomotiv’s coach — were killed.

According to Russian news agency Sport-Express and the Associated Press, witnesses saw the plane break into two pieces shortly after takeoff following what was thought to be a collision with an antenna. The team was flying from Yaroslavl, Russia, to Minsk, Belarus, for its first game of the KHL season and had most of its players and four youth-team players on board.

There were conflicting reports about the status of one surviving player, Alexander Galimov, whom Ovechkin knew well from their time with Russia’s 2005 world junior hockey team. He and one crew member were thought to be the only survivors of the crash, though Galimov’s burns reportedly were life-threatening.

Galiev knew three players in the crash — Yuri Urychev, Daniil Sobchenko and Sergei Ostapchuk — and wrote on Twitter that his friends “will be in my heart forever.”

Caps goaltender Tomas Vokoun was too distraught to talk, saying to a team spokesman, “What can I say?” His best friend — whom he was not comfortable talking about — died in the crash. He declined to comment and asked for a few days before addressing the matter.

Caps radio play-by-play man John Walton knew Salei, a defenseman, from the brief time they shared with Cincinnati of the American Hockey League and remembered him as a “a great guy — a fun-loving guy” who was well-liked by teammates.

“It’s just so awful to hear, even if you didn’t know some of these guys personally — you say ‘Hi’ to them, you see them at a game,” Mr. Walton said. “For all involved, it’s very tough.”

McCrimmon, who played 18 seasons in the NHL as a defenseman with teams including the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings, left an assistant position with Detroit in May to take the job in Russia.

An outpouring of condolences came from around the tight-knit hockey family, which has become all too used to tragedy this summer.

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