Tragedy-hit Lokomotiv pulls out of top league

The hockey team wiped out by a plane crash last week will not
take part in this year’s Kontinental Hockey League season.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Monday that Lokomotiv
Yaroslavl will be demoted to a lower league as part of a gradual
rebuilding program in keeping with the wishes of team
management.

”At a meeting with the president, we arrived at the conclusion
that we must support those decisions taken by the club,” Mutko
said after a high-level discussion on plans for Lokomotiv chaired
by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Lokomotiv President Yury Yakovlyev said the team might begin
playing in December in the Major Hockey League, the second tier of
Russian hockey.

By way of a concession, Lokomotiv will be automatically eligible
to compete in next year’s playoffs, regardless of where it places
in the MHL.

The crash Wednesday of a chartered Yak-42 jet outside the
western city of Yaroslavl took the lives of 28 players, two coaches
and seven other Lokomotiv staff. Alexander Galimov, the only member
of the team to initially survive the crash in which 44 people were
killed, died Monday of his injuries in a Moscow hospital.

Top hockey officials had earlier expressed hopes Lokomotiv could
be revived in time to take part in this season which began Monday,
by drafting players from other KHL teams. Those plans appear to
have been shelved in favor of more long-term reconstruction.

Mutko said the rebuilding would take place in stages. The first
step will be transferring the team to the Major Hockey League.
After that, youth players from other clubs will be permitted to
transfer to Lokomotiv, Mutko said.

Yakovlyev said Lokomotiv’s farm team of up-and-coming players
would be used as the base on which to create a new squad. He added
that before next season, Lokomotiv would try to attract players
with expired contracts and have the quota for foreign players
increased to six – one more than for other teams.