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KHL executive believes league will be judged based on response to plane crash

As thousands continue to mourn the loss of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl throughout Russia and around the world, a Kontinental Hockey League executive cited that strong reaction as a reason the hockey team should be rebuilt immediately.

"Sports are based on the emotions," KHL vice-president Ilya Kochevrin said Friday in an interview. "Nobody wants to exploit emotions, but I think you need to keep those emotions going. Otherwise, it's very easy to switch the emotions to something else. ...

"People in Yaroslavl will need a place where they can actually put things together for themselves. I think hockey has a fantastic ability to cure pain."

All but one of the 28 players travelling to Belarus for Lokomotiv's first game of the season were killed Wednesday when their Yak-42 jet crashed on takeoff.

At least four other KHL teams plan to join mourners at Arena 2000 in Yaroslavl for a memorial service on Saturday. Once that is completed, a meeting will be held to determine if Lokomotiv will be rebuilt in time to play this season.

KHL president Alexander Medvedev and many other influential people around the league favour holding a dispersal draft from existing teams to help restock the roster right away. However, it's yet to officially be determined if that will happen.

"The final decision is going to be (from) the team management," said Kochevrin. "It's not going to be the league or administration or anybody else. It has to be team management because they're the ones who will be responsible for building up the team."

Lokomotiv coach and NHL veteran Brad McCrimmon, a native of Plenty, Sask., was killed in Wednesday's crash along with veteran players Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins, who appeared in more than 2,500 NHL games combined.

If a similar tragedy were to ever strike a NHL team, the league's bylaws include specific guidelines "to ensure its immediate and continued operation as a genuinely competitive team."

Under similar circumstances, an NHL team would first be allowed to negotiate the purchase of players from other teams using insurance money before filling its roster out through a dispersal draft. Teams from around the league could protect 10 players and one goaltender and would only be allowed to lose up to one player each in the draft.

Fortunately, that policy has never been in put into effect. The KHL is dealing with a virtually unprecedented situation.

"It's a very tragic event, it's even hard to evaluate the scope of the tragedy," said Kochevrin. "One team disappearing in a second never happened before in the hockey world. Again, if we demonstrate we can deal with these issues and move on it will only strengthen the league, the hockey and the game—and demonstrate to the world that this is what the real sport is about.

"It's not about glamour and superficial things."

There are currently 23 Canadian players and a handful of Americans scattered around the 24-team league, which stretches across nine time zones. Extensive travel is a major part of life in the KHL, especially for the teams located a fair distance from Moscow.

In the wake of Wednesday's accident, Aeroflot offered to provide better planes for teams to use.

Kochevrin believes the league will ultimately be measured by how it moves forward from this tragedy and should do whatever it can to make players feel as comfortable as possible.

"We really have to derive lessons from what happened," he said. "I think if we deal with those problems and build strength and demonstrate that it's not in vain ... because this is the worst part of it, if it's in vain. It shouldn't be in vain.

"It should bring changes."

The KHL regular season kicks off Monday with seven games.


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