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How KHL’s Lokomotiv was reborn, one year after plane crash tragedy

Dmitry Chesnokov
Puck Daddy

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One year ago today, hockey fans around the world were shocked and touched by a tragedy.

At 4:05 p.m. local time, a Yak-42D plane carrying 45 people crashed at takeoff at Yaroslavl airport. The entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team was killed and 43 people, in total, perished. One player, Alexander Galimov, had survived the crash, but suffered burns on 90 percent of his body. He would succumb to his injuries five days later at a local hospital.

The day after, the KHL announced that Lokomotiv would be rebuilt.

[Related: Former airline executive charged in Lokomotiv plane crash tragedy]

A well-known Russian coach, Petr Vorobiev, who was coaching Lokomotiv's junior team, was named the head coach of the rebuilding squad. At the time, the League was considering two options for the future of the club: One would have Lokomotiv play the 2011-2012 KHL season with its youth team; the other would have a roster made up of one line from the junior team and the rest from replacement players from other KHL squads. More than 30 players voiced their willingness to play for Lokomotiv following the tragedy.

But on Sept. 10, Lokomotiv President Yuri Yakovlev announced that the team would not field a KHL team that season. "Our main priority is to take care of the families and the loved ones of those who perished in the tragedy," said Yakovlev. "Our other priority is to rebuild the team to the needed level."

Three months later, on Dec. 12, the "new" Lokomotiv played its first game since the tragedy. Lokomotiv had joined Russia's Major Hockey League — which is the second highest hockey league in Russia after the KHL — and their first game saw a 5-1 win over Neftyanik.

Last season, Lokomotiv played 22 games and made the playoffs in the Major Hockey League, losing in the second round. As they return to the highest level of professional hockey in Russia, the franchise will keep a team in the minor league as well.

[Also: CBA silence is deafening as NHL, NHLPA risk an unnecessary lockout]

In order to be competitive at the KHL level, Lokomotiv needed to rebuild their senior team. In October, Egor Yakovlev, a 20-year old defenseman, became the first player signed by Lokomotiv since the crash.

This summer, the team was very active on the free agent market. Players with NHL experience such as Curtis Sanford, Vitaly Vishnevsky, Victor Kozlov, Sami Lepisto, Niklas Hagman and Staffan Kronwall all signed on. Tom Rowe, who served as a scout and assistant coach with the Carolina Hurricanes, was hired as the the new head coach.

On Thursday, one day before the first anniversary of the tragedy, Lokomotiv was reborn, winning their opening game in Novosibirsk against Sibir. The game was sold out and it tickets were impossible to come by, even from scalpers. Emotions surrounding their return were high, even in an opposing arena. Sibir fans welcomed Lokomotiv back with chants of "Loko! Loko!" before the puck was even dropped.

Before the game, a minute of silence took place, during which pictures of those perished in the crash were projected on the ice. Lokomotiv were victorious 5-2.

[More: Maple Leafs rank last in survey of 122 pro sports teams]

The date of Sept. 7, 2011 will forever be remembered in the hockey world. There will never be any hockey played in the KHL on this day. A number of memorial services and other events are scheduled in Yaroslavl, and at 7 p.m. local time, sweaters of the players who lost their lives a year ago will be raised to the rafters of Arena-2000, Lokomotiv's home.

They are gone, but they will never be forgotten.

PLAYERS:
Vitaly Anikeyenko
Mikhail Balandin
Gennady Churilov
Pavol Demitra
Robert Dietrich
Alexander Galimov
Marat Kalimulin
Alexander Kalyanin
Andrei Kiryukhin
Nikita Klyukin
Stefan Liv
Jan Marek
Sergei Ostapchuk
Karel Rachunek
Ruslan Salei
Maxim Shuvalov
Karlis Skrastinš
Pavel Snurnitsyn
Daniil Sobchenko
Ivan Tkachenko
Pavel Trakhanov
Yuri Urychev
Josef Vašícek
Alexander Vasyunov
Alexander Vyukhin
Artem Yarchuk

TEAM PERSONNEL:
Yuri Bakhvalov
Aleksandr Belyaev
Alexander Karpovtsev
Igor Korolev
Nikolai Krivonosov
Yevgeni Kunnov
Vyacheslav Kuznetsov
Brad McCrimmon
Vladimir Piskunov
Yevgeni Sidorov
Andrei Zimin

Plus seven members of the crew.

Alexander Sizov, a crew member, was the sole survivor.

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