Czech nation mourns loss of its hockey stars in Yaroslavl tragedy

Photo: CTK

The Czech Republic is mourning the loss of its three ice hockey stars in a plane crash that will be remembered as one of the worst sporting tragedies in history. Jan Marek, Karel Rachůnek and Josef Vašíček were among the 43 victims of Wednesday’s tragic plane crash in Russia which wiped out the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team.

Photo: CTK
It was a hushed and somber gathering on Prague’s Old Town Square on Wednesday night as shocked hockey fans came to pay their respects to three greats of Czech ice-hockey. A sea of flickering candles lit the square where the nation traditionally celebrates its hockey victories. All three players were regulars in the Czech national ice-hockey team, cheered by thousands on this very spot as they brought back medals from world championships.

Young woman: “We were here with them in May of this year – cheering to thank them for the bronze medal at the World Championship which they fought so hard to get.”

Man: “They are all about my age. We all knew them –the whole country knew them and they were recognized and respected internationally for their achievements. It’s a tragic loss, but when I think that some of them are fathers as well – it is terribly, terribly sad.”

Coach Alois Hadamczik, who took over the training of the Czech national hockey team in 2010 said he had spoken to Jan Marek just two weeks before the crash.

Jan Marek,  photo: CTK
“Jan called me on the phone –I’ve known him since he was 17 and I got him into the national team – and he told me that he was a father, his wife had just delivered a baby boy – and that he wanted to come home. He asked what I thought of the idea –that he come home to play for Sparta or go to Switzerland. And I said look Jan you’ve been there for a while now and it’s up to you. No one can make the decision for you. And he said he would ring when he had made up his mind – but the phone call never came.”

Although the deaths of the country’s three hockey stars is still seen predominantly as a huge personal tragedy – the enormity of the loss for Czech hockey is slowly dawning on the nation.

Sports commentator Robert Záruba:

“I feel that it is a huge loss – and it has left the national team badly weakened. They were all a strong driving force and would have pushed the team further for another five, six years. So it’s an enormous loss for Czech hockey. They will be sorely missed, not just on the ice but in the changing rooms as co-players and friends who belong on the national team and will always have a place there.”

Photo: CTK
Jan Marek and Karel Rachůnek were both on the gold-winning Czech team at the World Championship in Germany in 2010 and the bronze-winning team in Slovakia in 2011. Vašíček won the Stanley Cup with the Caroline Hurricanes in the 2005-2006 season and was in the gold-winning Czech team in 2005. As the enormity of the tragedy sinks in, the hokey-loving Czech nation is taking comfort from re-living their moments of glory.