MOSCOW: Russia's top ice hockey teams will provide players to help rebuild the stricken Lokomotiv Yaroslavl club after nearly its entire squad was killed in a plane crash, the chairman of the sport's national league said on Thursday.
Former Soviet Union captain and National Hockey League (NHL) star Vyacheslav Fetisov said all teams in the Eurasia-wide Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) could send one player each to form a new Lokomotiv Yaroslavl squad.
"This is an initiative of the clubs. They called me on the phone offering help. Everyone understands how grave the situation is. Everyone understands that a huge disaster has happened. But Lokomotiv will be reborn, it has to continue playing in the league," he told the Izvestia newspaper.
The Lokomotiv team were on route to play their KHL season opener in the Belarus capital of Minsk when their Yak-42 aircraft crashed into a river bank shortly after takeoff from the airport outside Yaroslavl, 250 km (150 miles) north of Moscow.
Among the 43 dead were the team's Canadian coach Brad McCrimmon, Slovakia captain Pavol Demitra and three former world champions from the Czech Republic.
News of the crash plunged the world of ice hockey into shock and grief. The Lokomotiv squad included former players with the Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings and Florida Panthers - all members of the NHL.
"Though it occurred thousands of miles away from our home arenas, this tragedy represents a catastrophic loss to the hockey world," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Lokomotiv were the runners up in the KHL's inaugural season in 2008-2009. The club won back to back titles in the old Russian Superleague in 2002 and 2003. READY TO HELP
The KHL called off its season opener at defending champions Ufa following the crash. State television cited KHL President Alexander Medvedev as saying on Thursday that the season would get underway on Tuesday, Sept. 13.
Yaroslavl region governor Sergei Vakhrukov added that he had already been contacted by players willing to step in to enable Lokomotiv to fulfill its fixtures for the rest of the season.
"Other teams are ready to help. Players who are from Yaroslavl are ready to return to our club. About 30 hockey players have already expressed desire," he told reporters.
President Dmitry Medvedev, who laid carnations on Thursday at the crash site and went on to make a previously scheduled speech at a policy forum in Yaroslavl, backed the two officials and said the league should do "everything possible" to revive the club.
"Given that this is the favourite team in Yaroslavl ... you have to think that a resurgence is possible. Our hockey league must do everything possible (to make that happen)," Medvedev told reporters.
KHL President Alexander Medevedev said all 18 league clubs supported the idea. "Lokomotiv's new coach will have a list of 40-45 players and he can pick a good team," state-run Vesti television quoted Medvedev as saying. "Lokomotiv will be revived."
A successful attempt to rebuild the club would echo the rejuvenation of the Manchester United soccer team after more than half the team died in a plane crash in Munich in 1958.
Led by manager Matt Busby and attacking midfielder Bobby Charlton, who both survived the crash, the club became the first English side to lift the European Cup exactly 10 years after the accident.
The death of the Lokomotiv team, of which offenseman Alexander Galimov is the sole survivor, is the second time a Russian sporting side has been involved in a fatal plane crash.
VVS, a Soviet Union club sponsored by the son of dictator Josef Stalin, crashed near the city of Yekaterinburg in January 1950 during a journey to play a league match. All 11 players who were aboard of the plane died in the crash.