“What’s happened in tragic. It’s a huge tragedy. I’m hurting along with his family; his wife and kids must really be suffering right now,” said former national team head coach Bengt-Åke Gustafsson, who led Tre Kronor for several years while Liv was on the team, to the TT news agency.
New York Rangers netminder and fellow Tre Kronor teammate Henrik Lundqvist, recalled how much he enjoyed having Liv as a teammate.
“It was always incredibly fun to see Stefan on Tre Kronor. He was a fantastic person and a great teammate,” he told the Aftonbladet newspaper.
“I’m going to miss him very much.”
Liv, 30, was among the 44 people killed when a Yak-42 passenger jet carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team to Minsk, Belarus, crashed shortly after take off from an airport north of Moscow.
The club, which Liv joined just a few months ago, was on its way to Minsk to open the 2011-2012 season of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) on Thursday in a match against Dinamo Minsk.
Liv was about to start his second professional season in Russia, having played last year with HK Sibir Novosibirsk.
Prior to moving to Russia, Liv played in the top Swedish professional league, the Elitserien, for HV 71, based in Jönköping in central Sweden.
Outside Jönköping’s Kinnarps Arena, HV 71”s home ice, hundreds of fans gathered on Wednesday night to express their sorrow.
HV 71 supporters and fans of Liv, who helped lead the club to three Swedish national championships between 2004 and 2010, lit candles and shed tears over the loss of a player who, for much of the past decade, had become a symbol for the team and its success.
“The atmosphere is very, very sad. Everyone speaks so warmly of him, about what a fantastic person he was and he cared about everyone and was always willing to help,” Aftonbladet Ebba von Esssen reported from the scene.
“Entire families are standing and hugging each other in grief.”
Born in Poland, Liv was placed in a foster home before being adopted by Swedish parents as a 2-year-old.
He joined the HV 71 club in 1995, making his debut Elitserien debut in the 1999-2000 season. In 2000, Liv also joined the Swedish national team, Tre Kronor, and was a member of the historic squad which captured both Olympic and World Championship gold in 2006.
Liv was named Eliteserien Rookie of the Year in 2001 and helped the club to three Swedish national titles in 2004, 2008, and 2010. In 2008, he was awarded the league’s Guldpucken, given to the league’s Player of the Year
Swedish ice hockey fans also used social media outlets to express their shock over Liv’s death.
Soon after reports that Liv was among the victims of the devastating air disaster were confirmed, a number of Facebook pages appeared in honour of the Swedish goaltender.
“I can’t believe what’s happened and am sending a big hug and thoughts,” wrote one fan of the Facebook page “R.I.P. Stefan Liv”, which had more than 75,000 members within hours of Liv’s death.
“I can’t get my head around this…if feels like you should come home to Kinnarps and start in HV again…totally…insane…rest in peace,” wrote another.
Even Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt expressed his condolences over Liv’s untimely death.
“It’s with great sorry that I’ve received the news that hockey goaltender Stefan Liv has died in a plane crash in Russia,” Reinfeldt said in a statement, according to the TT news agency.
“I remember him as a fantastic goalie, both for Tre Kronor and in the Elitserien, My thoughts go out to his family and friends.”