Players were part of KHL hockey team that
perished upon takeoff for season-opener
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Former Blues players Pavol Demitra and Igor Korolev were among the victims Wednesday when a plane carrying the hockey team Yaroslavl Lokomotiv crashed en route to the team's first game.
In total, 45 people were on board the chartered jetliner, a Yak-42, and 43 (37 passengers, eight crew members) died in the crash that happened just as the team departed from the airport at Tunoshna for Minsk, Belarus to open the Kontinental Hockey League season Thursday against Dynamo Minsk. Two people, Russian player Alexander Galimov and crew member Alexander Sizov were the lone survivors. Both were listed in critical condition.
Other former NHLers confirmed dead in the crash included the team’s head coach, Brad McCrimmon, Ruslan Salei, Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek, Karlis Skrastins and Alexander Karpovtsev.
Rescue workers sift through the debris of the charred wreckage of a Russian
plane that crashed shortly after takeoff Wednesday that killed former Blues
players Pavol Demitra and Igor Korolev.
The NHL has been hit hard with sudden, tragic deaths this summer, beginning with the death of Derek Boggaard, followed by Rick Rypien and recently, Wade Belak.
And now comes one of the worst aviation accidents in sports history and the worst in hockey history.
"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," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.
The Blues were deeply affected by the tragedy with the loss Demitra and Korolev.
"On behalf of the St. Louis Blues, we are deeply saddened by the tragedy that took place today in Russia involving the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey club," Blues President John Davidson said on a statement Wednesday. "The entire hockey community has been affected by this news and our most heart-felt condolences go out to the families of those who perished.
"The St. Louis Blues have lost two members of our family, Pavol Demitra and Igor Korolev, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families as well. Pavol and Igor were both incredibly passionate and dedicated players and their influence in St. Louis was not only felt on the ice, but throughout the community."
Demitra had a distinguished career in the NHL playing for the Blues, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks. He was originally drafted by the Ottawa Senators and traded to the Blues on Nov. 26, 1996 for defenseman Christer Olsson in arguably Mike Keenan's greatest feat as coach and general manager of the Blues.
The Slovakia native scored 204 goals and added another 289 assists in 494 career games for the Blues from 1996-2004. The 36-year-old Demitra, who leaves behind wife Maja and children Lucas and Zara, played on some memorable lines in his Blues career, including the 'Slovak Line' with Michal Handzus and Lubos Bartecko. But his best numbers in a Blues uniform came playing with Keith Tkachuk and current Blues assistant coach Scott Mellanby.
"I am beyond devastated by the tragic news involving my good friends Brad and Pavol and the rest of their teammates in Russia," Tkachuk said in a statement released by the Blues. "Brad was my teammate in Phoenix and later coached me in Atlanta and was truly a wonderful man who will be greatly missed. Pav was like a brother to me and I cannot believe that he is no longer with us. This is a terrible day for the hockey fraternity. My family's thoughts and prayers are with their families during this difficult time."
Current Blues players were in shock as well. Goalie Ben Bishop never crossed paths with Demitra here but offered on his Twitter account (@Benbishop30): "My thoughts and prayers go out to all the friends & families who lost love ones in the plane crash in Russia. ... Sad day in the hockey world."
Demitra, who scored 304 goals and 768 points in the NHL, won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy with the Blues in 2000. It's given to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.
Former Blue Pavol Demitra (38) was among 43 people killed in a plane
crash Wednesday, along with several members of KHL's Yaroslavl
Demitra, who represented Slovakia at the World Championships six times, the World Cup twice and the Winter Olympics three times, left the NHL to play in the KHL and prolong his career.
"As a European player, he had certain opportunities to continue playing at a high level," Mellanby said of Demitra. "He had some decent hockey left in him, so the opportunity for him to go and be a leader was something he wanted.
"He was a great guy, fun guy to be around. It was a great experience playing with him. But for me, the hockey side of it is one thing. We'll always have our memories with the guys, but the families, our thoughts are with them."
Another former teammate, Phoenix Coyotes color analyst Tyson Nash, summed up Demitra's NHL status best.
"He was a superstar," Nash said. "He was one of the best players that ever played in St. Louis, as far as talent goes and skill-wise, and you'd never know it. For a superstar, he was the must humble person I'd ever met. He didn't have an ego."
Demitra's agent Matt Keator told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "He was a great friend and great teammate. He was always the type to bring people together."
Demitra assisted on the game-winning goal when the Blues overcame a 5-0 third-period deficit in Toronto to post a 6-5 overtime victory on Nov. 29, 2000. Jochen Hecht scored the OT goal.
"I thought he was always one of our highest-skilled players on our team," former Blues GM Larry Pleau said. "He grew up here. I think he really matured and grew up here."
Korolev was drafted by the Blues in the second round of the 1992 NHL Entry Draft and spend two seasons (1992-94) in St. Louis and was part of the group (along with Vitali Prokhorov and Vitali Karamnov) that broke the Russian barrier here in St. Louis. Korolev was an assistant coach for Lokomotiv and celebrated his 41st birthday Tuesday.
Blues color analyst for KMOX radio Kelly Chase, who was a teammate of Demitra, Korolev and McCrimmon, said on his Twitter account (@Chasenpucks39): "My buddy Pav always took care of his tough guys and always had time for kids..I'm sick for Mia and his children ... Iggy always smiling always learning and loved North America. I will miss u modruke ... Beast McCrimmon. U epitomize farm tough and what it takes to be a professional a leader and a great human being.. God bless Maureen n kids.