Three former Florida Panthers players have died after a Russian jet carrying a hockey team crashed moments after takeoff Wednesday. The plane went down about 150 miles northeast of Moscow.
The plane was carrying the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team from the Kontinental Hockey League.
At least 43 people were killed including defensemen Ruslan Salei, Karlis Skrastins and Alexander Karpovtsev, who all played with the Panthers during different stints in recent years.
Salei signed with the team as a free agent in July 2006 and played 147 games for the Panthers, scoring nine goals. He was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in 2008, and in return, Florida got Skrastins.
Skrastins played parts of two seasons for the Cats, scoring five goals, before leaving for Dallas in 2009.
Karpovtsev only played in six games for the team before being released back in 2005.
The cause of the crash is under investigation, but Russian news agencies are reporting that it may have been caused by technical problems.
It's the second major tragedy involving a former Panthers player in recent weeks. The organization is still dealing with the loss of former enforcer Wade Belak, who reportedly took his own life one week ago.
The Panthers held an informal preseason skate at their training facility in Coral Springs this morning, with players being informed of the crash before taking the ice.
“This is just unbelievable. This whole summer,’’ Panthers center Stephen Weiss told the Miami Herald. Weiss played with Salei, Skrastins, Karpovtsev and Belak.
“It was hard to hear that news this morning. Just another sick feeling. It was pretty somber on the ice. It was tough to go out there. We had teammates on that plane," he said. "You just feel sick for their families. As athletes, we fly a lot and it gets scary up there sometimes. To see this is terrifying. This is just terrible.”
Russian players Dmitry Kulikov and Evgeny Dadonov took the news hard but participated in the full workout.
Kulikov played for Lokomotiv before leaving Russia to play junior hockey in Canada.
“This is just a terrible, terrible feeling,” Kulikov told the Herald. “I was friends with a lot of those guys, played for that team. Words can’t describe how I feel right now. It’s tough. To know people there, and know what happened, it’s tough. It’s just an empty feeling. You know things like this happen, but you never think it’s going to happen to your friends.”