Washington: National Hockey League stars were stunned to learn that players on the Russian team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl were among 44 people killed on Wednesday in an airplane crash in central Russia.
"This is the darkest day in the history of our sport," International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel said. "This is not only a Russian tragedy. This is a terrible tragedy for the global ice hockey community."
Alex Ovechkin, a Russian superstar for the NHL Washington Capitals who once played for Lokomotiv's Kontinental Hockey League rival Moscow Dynamo, posted on his Twitter account "I'm in shock!!!! R.I.P" and was upset after practice.
"A whole national tragedy," Ovechkin told the Washington Post. "It's kind of a scary moment."
Ovechkin later tweeted in Russian: "Very hard to lose close people and friends! Let them rest in peace! You will remain forever in our memory!"
Lokomotiv included a number of former NHL players and national team talents who have skated beside NHL players at Olympic and world championships as well as in quest of the NHL's Stanley Cup.
"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," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.
Lokomotiv was flying to Belarus to face a Minsk club in their season opener. The team included Slovakian national captain and ex-NHL star Pavol Demitra and was coached by Brad McCrimmon, a Canadian who played 18 NHL seasons.
"We have no team anymore," Lokomotiv spokesman Vladimir Malkov told The New York Times.
"I knew half the team. I didn't believe it at first...then I felt sick," New York Ranger and former Lokomotiv hometown hero Artem Anisimov told Newsday.
Demitra, 36, was a defenseman with five NHL clubs, scoring 304 goals in 847 games. He signed with Lokomotiv last year after leading Slovakian scorers at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, his third Olympic appearance.
"Demo,u will always b in my heart," tweeted Slovak star Marian Gaborik of the New York Rangers. "U were one of my best friends on and off the ice.U will be greatly missed by all of us.My condolences..."
Others killed included Czech players Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek and Jan Marek, Swedish goaltender Stefan Liv, Latvian defense-man Karlis Skrastins, Belarus defense-man Ruslan Salei and assistant coach Alexander Karpovtsev.
Already coping with the deaths of three notable physical enforcers since May, NHL players again expressed sorrow over the latest body check to the sport.
"Another terrible tragedy and loss to the hockey world...makes my body shake thinking bout it," said Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders.
"I can't believe I'm writing another one," tweeted Anaheim's Bobby Ryan. "Too many players gone this year."
"Horrible tragedy!!! Thoughts with families. Enough hockey tragedy this summer," said Mathieu Darche of the Montreal Canadiens.
McCrimmon, 52, spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach with the NHL Detroit Red Wings before resigning on May 19, 10 days before he took the job with Lokomotiv.
"Brad McCrimmon was well-liked by all who came in contact with him. His presence in the hockey community will be greatly missed," said Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford.
Vasicek was a former Hurricanes standout.
"We are deeply saddened," Rutherford said. "Josef was a key part of the Hurricanes for six years, helping us achieve some of our greatest successes."
Czech goaltender Tomas Vokoun of the Capitals was too shaken to speak after practice because he was a close friend of Skrastins, a former Dallas player who was recalled by Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk.
"The Dallas Stars family is shocked and saddened by the passing of Karlis Skrastins and so many other young lives," he said. "Karlis was a wonderful father and husband, as well as a good friend. He will be greatly missed."
Lou Lamoriello, president of the New Jersey Devils, knew many of the Lokomotiv players and the entire coaching staff.
"Nothing could prepare the hockey community for the devastating news," said Lamoriello. "The tragic plane crash involving Lokomotiv Yaroslavl has left all of us beyond words."