Thousands of people packed a central square in Prague on Sunday to honor the memory of the three Czech hockey players who died in a plane crash that killed a total of 43 and wiped out a leading club in the top Russian league.
Major Czech hockey stars _ former and current, including Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias and Dominik Hasek _ coaches and officials attended a memorial ceremony Sunday organized by the Czech hockey federation at the Old Town Square for Karel Rachunek, Jan Marek and Josef Vasicek.
They helped the Czech national team win the gold medal at the world championships in 2005 and 2010. Vasicek was on the Carolina Hurricanes' 2006 Stanley Cup team.
They laid flowers on a stage dominated by large black and white photographs of the three players with their national jerseys hanging above them, while fans lit thousands of candles in front of the stage to honor them.
"Our grief can hardly be compared with what it means for their nearest and dearest ones," Elias said.
After the mourners observed a minute of silence, federation president Tomas Kral called the three "great and irreplaceable players, friends and people."
People applauded brief videos that were shown on a big screen that summed up the highlights of their careers.
"We thank you," Kral said. The federation announced that the players' national team jersey numbers _ 4 (Rachunek), 15 (Marek) and 63 (Vasicek) _ will be retired.
Mass was celebrated for the three after the 30-minute ceremony in a nearby church.
"They did so much for the nation," said Martin Kosvica, 38, one of the fans. "The gave us so much joy. They united the nation," said Kosvica who traveled with his family from the northwestern city of Teplice to attend the memorial.
"We love the game," he said.
Thirty-six players, coaches and staff of Russia's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team were killed when their Yak-42 jet crashed Wednesday outside Yaroslavl, Russia, en route to their first game of the season in the Kontinental Hockey League.