"This is the darkest day in the history of our sport."

Lokomotiv Yaroslav logo via sportslogos.net
Earlier today the Yakupov Yak-42 passenger jet carrying the KHL's entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team crashed shortly after takeoff, falling into the Volga River near Yaroslavl, Russia, en route to Minsk, Belarus for the first game of the KHL season. On board were 36 players, including 4 from the Lokomotiv MHL team (the Russian equivalent of the AHL), as well as coaches, team officials, and the airplane crew. All aboard perished, save for one crew member and player Alexander Galimov - both of whom are in very critical conditions, sustaining massive burns. As of now, there has been no official word of Galimov passing away, so we can only hope that he is still fighting to stay alive.

The crash site. (AP)
Players and coaches on board were not only Russian by descent; crash victims also included persons from other countries, such as veteran Ukrainian goalie Alexander Vyukhin, Swedish goalie Stefan Liv (a former Red Wings prospect), and Belarusian defenseman Ruslan Salei, who recently signed with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl following his 917-game NHL career (played with the Ducks, Panthers, Avalanche, and most recently the Red Wings). Other international victims included German defenseman Robert Dietrich (a former Predators prospect) and Latvian defenseman Karlis Skrastins (another recent signee, Skrastins was a veteran of 832 NHL games, split between the Predators, Avalanche, Panthers, and most recently the Stars). The Lokomotiv Yaroslavl coach was Brad McCrimmon; a Canadian and another NHL veteran.

The full Lokomotiv Yaroslavl roster at the time of the crash; all people are dead except for Galimov:
Goalkeepers: Stefan Liv (SWE), Olexander Vyukhin (UKR), 
Defencemen: Artur Amirov (RUS), Vitali Anikeyenko (RUS), Mikhail Balandin (RUS), Robert Dietrich (GER/KAZ), Marat Kalimulin (RUS), Karel Rachunek (CZE), Ruslan Salei (BLR), Maxim Shuvalov (RUS), Karlis Skrastins (LAT), Pavel Trakhanov (RUS), Yuri Urychev (RUS), 
Forwards: Gennadi Churilov (RUS), Pavol Demitra (SVK), Alexander Galimov (RUS), Alexander Kalyanin (RUS), Andrei Kiryukhin (RUS), Nikita Klyukin (RUS), Jan Marek (CZE), Sergei Ostapchuk (BLR), Pavel Snurnitsyn (RUS), Danil Sobchenko (UKR), Ivan Tkachenko (RUS), Josef Vasicek (CZE), Alexander Vasyunov (RUS), Artyom Yarchuk (RUS), Danil Yerdakov (RUS), 

Coaches: Brad McCrimmon (CAN, head coach), Igor Korolev (RUS, assistant coach)
The KHL's statement about the tragedy:
We are only beginning to understand the impact of this tragedy affecting the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl club on the friends we’ve lost and the international hockey community.

First and foremost, our condolences go out to the families of the players, coaches and staff lost in today’s tragedy. We know that there are many in the KHL family who will be grieving with us.

As the investigation of this tragedy progresses we will work closely with investigators, government officials, club executives and the Yaroslavl community. We are working to find an appropriate way to honor this club and begin the healing process from the deep loss so many of us feel today.

We are aware that many of you have questions. This tragedy remains our primary focus. We ask for patience as we find an appropriate way to proceed with the 2011-2012 season. We will continue to communicate our plans as they take shape. 
Per Dmitry Chesnokov, KHL teams have told KHL president Alexander Medvedev that "they want to send their best players to play for Lokomotiv this season". While it is indeed possible that Lokomotiv may just not play this season, it would seem that they will manage to get a team if that is what they want.

Fans mourning in Yaroslavl. (Photo via Tumblr)
The most sobering part about this whole incident, at least to me, is that some sort of similar accident could happen to any other hockey team playing in any league in any country in the world. How would I feel if my favorite team (the Washington Capitals) all perished in a single plane crash? Ovechkin, Green, Backstrom, Semin, Carlson, Alzner, Neuvirth, Laich, Boudreau.... it almost brings me to tears just thinking about it. In Russia, a bunch of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl fans had this very experience happen to them today. I cannot imagine how bad they must feel. Or how bad the country of Russia feels, seeing how they lost a good percentage of their top hockey players. Or the KHL, seeing as they lost an entire team. This is a truly tragic loss for the hockey world everywhere; the largest single loss of hockey life at a single time ever. IIHF President Rene Fasel's words ring true - this is by far the darkest day in hockey history (his quote is the title of this post).

"Sasha Galimov you must liveHold on! We are all with youPray for you!"
There's not much we can really do at the moment except support each other. Pray for Alexander Galimov. Pray for the families of the players and coaches who died today. Console the players who lost their friends, or those (like Alex Ovechkin) who are hoping that their friend manages to stay alive. Pray that this doesn't happen to your favorite team, or any team for that matter. And cherish your favorite players, because if this summer has shown us anything, it's that you never know how long they might be around.

"Right now there is no hope. The team is gone." - Lokomotiv Yaroslavl offical. (KHL)

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