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

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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. 

The crash provoked much soul-searching in Russia with then-President Dmitry Medvedev calling for an urgent upgrade of the country’s passenger jets.

More immediately for Lokomotiv, it left the club without its senior players or coaches. Of the entire senior roster, only one coach and one player, both of whom had stayed behind, were left.


But now, just a year on, Lokomotiv is not only playing, but winning as well, sitting near the top of the Western Conference of the mostly Russian Kontinental Hockey League.

Tim Rowe, their American coach, credits Lokomotiv President Yuri Yakovlev with assembling a squad from scratch that can compete in the KHL, considered by hockey cognoscenti to be the world’s top league currently playing, as the NHL remains mired in a labor dispute between owners and players. 

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