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KHL’s bold plans to keep Lokomotiv running after tragedy

Dmitry Chesnokov
Puck Daddy

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It has been just over 24 hours since the tragedy that took away lives of Lokomotiv hockey players, the coaching staff and the crew of the doomed Yak-42 plane that crashed on takeoff in Yaroslavl, Russia.

Thursday morning, the KHL's vice president Ilya Kochevrin spoke exclusively with Puck Daddy regarding the plans for the future of the league and for Lokomotiv.

"Our priority right now is also to keep hockey in Yaroslavl. We can tell you that more than 30 current active players who have played for Lokomotiv in their careers have announced that they want to come to Yaroslavl to play," he said, "and the league is setting up an option where those players selected by the new head coach of Lokomotiv and will come to play there, their salary will be paid by their current KHL clubs, those where they are under a contract right now. At least for this season."

You read that right: The KHL's other franchises will fund the roster for Lokomotiv under the current option for the league.

"This will be done to alleviate the financial burden that Lokomotiv has right now because the team still has to pay out the entire contract of each player, coach and personnel who died [Wednesday]. They just don't have this sort of a budget," Kochevrin continued.

"So the league deems it is required to participate in this process. Every KHL team said they are ready to take this step — lend a player and pay his salary so that he would play in Yaroslavl at least this season. And then we'll see how hockey improves in the city."

Coming up, questions of player safety and what this plane crash means for the KHL's standing in the hockey world.

What is the latest about the aftermath of the crash?

"Right now the relatives of the deceased are still identifying the bodies. All bodies have been recovered at this time. A team of psychologists is working with the relatives. And on Saturday we will have a farewell ceremony for all those who lost their lives in Yaroslavl. It will be dedicated to all who lost their lives, not only the hockey players. The KHL and government officials will all attend."

What can you tell us about the meeting that took place Thursday among KHL officials?

"It wasn't an official meeting, we simply had a concrete talk about the steps forward. We had to make some decisions today. The first one, obviously, was about halting the regular season. Actually it wasn't even halted because the season hasn't really started yet. So, we actually postponed the start of the regular season. No games have been canceled. We moved the games that should have been played to later dates.

"We spoke with the Russian Hockey Federation and the games that have been postponed will be played during 'windows' in the regular season designed to accommodate the Euro Hockey Tour.

"Another issue we discussed is what to do next. This decision will be made after the remembrance ceremony this weekend. It is very difficult to even discuss it at this time because we are still identifying the bodies. We will reconvene when the time is right. I will have something more certain for you on Sunday regarding this step."

Is it true that the league will now take over the travel arrangements instead of the teams themselves?

"This is not entirely correct. The league won't take on this responsibility without consent of all the teams. We can only suggest certain arrangements. For example, Aeroflot has already approached us about becoming the transportation vendor for all the teams. The league has a lot of experience working with Aeroflot and other carriers and we will use that experience to ensure the clubs are presented with the best prices and the best quality of service when they travel. The league will also ensure that the price will be affordable to all the teams, because it could be quite high to use Boeing and Airbus planes. And if the price is higher than what a club has been paying before, the league will consider offering assistance or subsidies to these clubs."

What other steps will the league take in terms of safety of its players?  Or will you wait for the official announcement of the causes of the crash?

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"This is a matter of government authorities who are responsible for aviation safety in our country. The league in this case is only a 'taker' of sorts. The league will continue monitoring the investigation, but we will in no way interfere with it because it is such a serious matter that only professionals should handle it."

How will this tragedy affect the KHL in the long run?  Will players now think twice about coming to play in the KHL?

"You know, no one can forecast this type of a tragedy. We still don't know what the cause was, whether it was a human factor or something else. It is in no way connected to the image of the league. The image of the league will be judged by how we approach solving the problem of disappearance of hockey from Yaroslavl.

"We have to ensure that the traditions of the Yaroslavl hockey school will live on. We have to give them another push to ensure that. The image of the league will only get better if we achieve this. The most important thing right now is not to get our hands down. It is understandable that this is a huge human tragedy that we didn't choose, no one deserves this. But we have to rebuilt hockey in Yaroslavl.

"We met with Yaroslavl fans today together with the Deputy Minister of Sport of Russia, President of the Russian Hockey Federation — and everyone spoke with fans face to face, very openly. And everyone said that we are committed to do everything to keep the hockey tradition alive in Yaroslavl. Life will go on and we will all be strong."

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As previously reported, the KHL will restart its season on Tuesday. KHL teams will play with commemorative patches on their jerseys this season to remember their Lokomotiv colleagues.

In other crash-related news, Alexander Galimov, the lone player who survived the crash, was transported to Moscow together with a crew member who also survived the crash. Galimov is fighting for his life with over 90 percent burns to his body and upper respiratory system.

Meanwhile, SovSport posted a reconstruction of how the crash happened based on the evidence.

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