A Russian jet carrying a top ice hockey team crashed Wednesday in western Russia, killing 43 people and leaving two critically injured, officials said. It was one of the worst crashes ever involving a sports team.
Among those killed were former Rangers defensemen Karel Rachunek and Alexander Karpovtsev, as well as former Islanders assistant coach Brad McCrimmon and forward Josef Vasicek. Karpovtsev was a member of the Rangers' Stanley Cup-winning team in 1994.
The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said the Yak-42 plane carrying Yaroslavl's Lokomotiv team of the Russian Kontinental Hockey League crashed immediately after leaving an airport near Yaroslavl, on the Volga River about 150 miles northeast of Moscow.
The news left several local players devastated.
"It's a sad day in the history of hockey, and not just hockey, the whole country," Russian free agent Alexei Yashin, 37, said after skating at the Islanders' practice facility in Syosset. Yashin spent two seasons with Lokomotiv after being bought out by the Islanders in 2007.
"A lot of my friends were on that plane, we've all played together," Yashin said. "I just want to give my condolences to all their families. It's a tough day for everyone in hockey."
Rangers forward Artem Anisimov, 23, played as a teenager in the Yaroslavl system. "I don't want to believe it," Anisimov said. "The news says plane crash, and I feel sick."
Islanders prospects Anton Klementyev and David Ullstrom and ex-Islanders defenseman Radek Martinek all lost close friends in the crash, as did Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and forward Marian Gaborik.
"[Vasicek] was one of my best buddies. He was in my wedding. I can't believe this," said Martinek, now with Columbus. "I don't even want to think about this right now."
The team was heading to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where it was to play Thursday against Dinamo Minsk in the season opener of the Kontinental Hockey League. The league is made up of teams from several ex-Soviet nations.
McCrimmon, who was the team's coach, was most recently an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings, and played for years in the NHL for Boston, Calgary, Philadelphia, Detroit, Hartford and Phoenix. He was an assistant coach with the Islanders from 1997 to 1999.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman offered his condolences to families of the deceased.
"Though it occurred thousands of miles away from our home arenas, this tragedy represents a catastrophic loss to the hockey world -- including the NHL family, which lost so many fathers, sons, teammates and friends who at one time excelled in our League."
This is the latest tragedy to hit the world of hockey. Earlier this summer, NHL players Derek Boogaard, a former Ranger, and Rick Rypien and recently retired Wade Belak all died in separate incidents.
With Katie Strang
and Steve Zipay