YAROSLAVL, RUSSIA - The new Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team has the task of rebuilding a hockey legacy.
But competing for a KHL championship is only part of the goal for those skating for Lokomotiv this season, one year after 36 players and team officials and eight crew members died in a plane crash.
"It's our job to bring the hockey back and bring some enjoyment back to the lives of the fans, help them to remember the team from last year," said goalie Curtis Sanford, who joined Lokomotiv after spending last season with the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets. "The best way to do that is have a really good season."
Lokomotiv is opening the season on the road so won't be in Yaroslavl for Friday's one-year anniversary of the crash. However, before leaving for Siberia, the team held a memorial.
"It's one thing to be back in Canada and hear about a tragedy so far away, although it still hits home because the hockey world is so small and a lot of guys knew and played with guys in the crash," said defenceman Mark Flood, who spent half of last season with the Winnipeg Jets.
"Being in the cemetery and seeing the tributes, it's a surreal feeling. You feel honoured to play here and to have been chosen to help the team rebuild."
Other former NHLers on the Lokomotiv roster include Niklas Hagman, Staffan Kronwall and Viktor Kozlov. The players know they often will have to deal with reminders of the past.
Coach Tom Rowe said team members have discussed using the tragedy as a motivator instead of as a burden.
"Anything that we're going to go through emotionally pales in comparison to what all those families probably go through on a daily basis," said Rowe, who jumped at the chance to coach after serving four seasons as an assistant coach and a scout with the Carolina Hurricanes. "I think it's important for us to be reminded and important to embrace what that team was all about.
"We don't talk about it a lot, but we've said to each other we want to have a great season.
"We want to celebrate (members of that team) for what they stood for and what they were all about."
The newcomers have discovered they're in a city that wants a reason to celebrate hockey again.
"Lokomotiv is Yaroslavl," said Sanford, who played with Pavol Demitra -- one of the crash victims -- in both St. Louis and Vancouver. "The people eat and breathe hockey in Russia overall, but especially in the city we play in. The people are very passionate. The scars, they just don't go away. It's up to the players on the team to help the healing process and we're going to try our best to do that."
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