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07 September 2021, 14:13

Minsk remembers HC Lokomotiv Yaroslavl players

MINSK, 7 September (BelTA) – Today, on the day of the tenth anniversary of the HC Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash, fans come to Minsk Arena to lay flowers and remember the team. The ceremony will be open from 7.00 to 22.00, BelTA has learned.

Among the 44 players killed in the plane crash were three Belarusians: the captain of the national team Ruslan Salei, forward Sergei Ostapchuk and fitness coach Nikolai Krivonosov. Exactly 10 years ago, on 7 September, HC Lokomotiv Yaroslavl was heading to the Belarusian capital for a match with HC Dinamo Minsk. The plane crashed immediately after the takeoff.

Today HC Dinamo Minsk will play Lokomotiv in Yaroslavl. The current Minsk team has the players and coaches who knew the Belarusians very well. The goalkeeper of the then Dinamo team and now one of its coaches Andrei Mezin told the Dinamo Minsk website that he learned about the terrible tragedy during the first match of the season between HC Salavat Yulaev and Atlant. “At first I couldn't believe it: how so? It felt like a bad joke. It was a shock. I knew Ruslan Salei best. I would not say that we kept in close touch because we mostly lived and played in different countries. But in Minsk we lived nearby and saw each other often in the summer. Of course, we spent time together at the world championships and the Olympic Games. Ruslan was a leader, always committed and cheerful, fair, a fighter by nature," the coach said.

Another former partner of Ruslan Salei in the Belarus national team Andrei Mikhalev recalls: "We were preparing for the first game of the season, had a practice. Lokomotiv was supposed to arrive in the afternoon. The news came in the evening. It was a shock. The following day the locker room was dead silent. I knew Ruslan Salei from the national team. He was a great hockey player. He played many games in the NHL, including in the Stanley Cup finals. He really wanted to win the Gagarin Cup. He was looking forward to the game in his hometown Minsk. After the news of the plane crash, there were speculations that he went to Minsk by car the day before. But in fact he was on that plane. We were on good terms with Nikolai Krivonosov. He worked with HC Atlant, Dinamo, then moved to Yaroslavl. Nikolai loved his job. You could address him for advice any moment you needed. He was younger than me and many other hockey players, but his opinion was respected.

Defenseman Dmitry Korobov, who still plays for HC Dinamo Minsk, said: “It is impossible to convey the feelings I felt back then. Sergei Ostapchuk played for Lokomotiv. We were the same age. We started playing hockey together in Novopolotsk. I played together with Ruslan Salei in the Belarusian national team. Many great people died in that accident in 2011. The following morning someone called my apartment over the intercom. I picked up the phone, but no one answered. At first I thought that someone had misdialed. Two or three minutes later I heard the elevator stop at my floor and someone rang the doorbell. I opened the door but there was no one there. I think it was Sergei or Ruslan.”

Mikhail Grabovski said that that Lokomotiv Yaroslavl roster will always be remembered: “Just recently, HC Dinamo Minsk once again paid tribute to the outstanding hockey player by winning the Salei Cup in August. We keep the jersey with his name in the locker room of the Belarusian national team. When HC Dinamo Minsk come to Yaroslavl, we always lay flowers at the memorial. It is a pity we have no leaders like Ruslan Salei today. Our task is to tell how Ruslan played and how he achieved that level. He had an incredible ability to work hard. He played 917 games in the NHL and made it to the Stanley Cup finals. He had all the qualities of a great hockey player. But most importantly he had a fighting spirit. He greatly supported me when I signed up with Montreal, gave me great tips how I could get good in the NHL.”

Photos by Sergei Sheleg

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