Two NHL stars who were formerly recruited by the Los Angeles Kings — but had moved on to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Europe — have reportedly been killed in this morning's devastating plane crash along Russia's Volga River.
LA Observed notes that Pavol Demitra and Jan Marek, along with one-time Anaheim Ducks defenseman Ruslan Salei, are said to be among the 43 casualties of the deadly accident.
Marek's manager tells ESPN of the brief King draftee, “It's just stunning and just awful. …You couldn't find a more popular teammate.”
ESPN reports that only KHL player Alexander Galimov and an unidentified crewmember survived the crash:
The plane was carrying the Lokomotiv ice hockey team from Yaroslavl to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where it was to play Thursday against Dinamo Minsk in the opening game of the season of the Continental Hockey League. The ministry was carrying 45 people, including 37 passengers and eight crew, and two people survived the crash.
The NHL honors 36-year-old Demitra with an obituary today, lauding him as a highly “productive player” over his 16 seasons with the American league, as well as a “great friend and teammate”:
“People were drawn to Demo. He was a great friend and great teammate,” Matt Keator, Demitra's agent, told Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “He was always the type to bring people together. This is just awful. He was such a popular guy with everyone he has ever played with.”
A native of Slovakia, Demitra is survived by his wife, Maja, and two children, Lucas and Zara. Demitra and his wife had a third child, Tobias, who died shortly after he was born in 2005. Tobias and Zara were twins.
The Los Angeles Times writes that Demitra “played with the Kings during the 2005-06 season, finishing third in team scoring with 62 points.” A statement from the L.A. team's management reads:
“The Los Angeles Kings organization is deeply saddened with the tragic news of this morning's plane crash in Russia that was carrying the members of the KHL's Lokomotiv organization, including former Kings forward Pavol Demitra, former Kings prospect Jan Marek and many other members of the NHL family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the family and friends of those affected by this terrible occurrence.”
Ten-year Anaheim Ducks player Ruslan “Rusty” Salei is described by Anaheim Calling as “a fan favorite for many years.” The sports blog remembers: “Occasionally during broadcasts, play-by-play announcer John Alhers refers to Honda Center as 'The House that Rusty Built'. He was that much of an institution in Anaheim.”