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A year after being literally wiped out, a Russian hockey team flourishes

Last November, nearly every member of the team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl was killed in a plane crash that devastated the hockey world. Today, the team is one of the KHL's best.

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The Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team poses with the father of Karel Rachunek before a friendly hockey match between PSG Zlin and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in Zlin, Czech Republic, in November. Rachunek was a member of the Lokomotiv team that was wiped out in a plane crash in November 2011. Zlin was Rachunek's hometown.

Pavel Paprskar/CTK/AP

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Wooden hockey sticks smack into rubber pucks as the metal blades of skates slice through the ice. The sounds echo through an empty arena in the Czech capital Prague in late November as a visiting hockey team prepares for another game in the Kontinental Hockey League

But this is no ordinary squad. This is Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, a Russian team that was literally wiped out last year in an air tragedy that shocked the hockey world. 

On Sept. 7, 2011, the team was set to fly to Minsk to play their first game of the new season amid high hopes of adding to its league titles from the 1990s. But the team’s plane, a Yak-42, never gained proper altitude and slammed into a tower. It went down in flames about a mile from Tunoshna Airport in Yaroslavl, Russia

Forty-five people on board died, among them some of the greats of the game, including Slovakia’s Pavol Demitra; Ruslan Salei, a hero back home in Belarus; and three Czech players with world championship medals. Only the flight engineer survived.

A government investigation found one of the pilots had literally stepped on the brakes, dragging the plane down when it should have been going up. It later emerged the pilot and co-pilot were not properly trained to fly the Yak-42, and had forged documents to prove otherwise. 

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