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

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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. 

After the crash, Mr. Yakovlev rejected a KHL offer to craft a replacement team assembled with players from other KHL teams, along with some of Lokomotiv’s junior players. Instead, the junior team played last year in Russia’s Major Hockey League – the country’s top minor league, all with the hope of returning to the top flight this season.

And return they did, bouncing back even stronger than management had hoped.

“I knew we would have a good team; Mr. Yakovlev has been active signing good players. But even I’m surprised how quickly this team has gelled,” explains Mr. Rowe.

'A season dedicated to those guys'

Rowe cites a form of divine intervention for the team’s success. "I'm not being strange when I say this, I think we're getting some help from up above in the type of season we're having."

They're definitely looking out over us, and it's a good feeling," he says. "There's a calmness over this team every night that I haven't been around too often, and it's an awful lot of fun to be a part of it.”

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