Monday, 13 October 2008

A Great Loss

Today is Thanksgiving in Canada, but it is with great sadness that I have to speak about the tragedy that occurred today. Alexei Cherepanov, the Rangers' first pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft at 17th overall, collapsed on the bench near the end of the game after his heart stopped. Cherepanov was 19 years-old. He was a forward for the KHL's Avangard Omsk in the KHL this season, and was the fourth-highest scoring player for Omsk last season in the Russian Super League. The young man looked poised to be a solid player in New York next season.

In the game against Vityaz Chekhov, Cherepanov went back to the bench after colliding on a shift with Jaromir Jagr (updates below), and then took a seat between linemates Jagr and Pavel Rosa. It was there where he collapsed with three minutes left in the game. Despite the efforts of the medical people on hand who used heart massage to try to restart his heart, Cherepanov could not be revived.

"He passed out on the bench and they couldn't revive him," Omsk head coach Wayne Fleming told "He just laid back, passed out and went kind of white."

A shaken Jaromir Jagr, Cherepanov's mentor this season, was seen crying and saying "wake up, Alexei". The two had developed a close bond as Cherepanov looked as though he had a bright NHL future. Jagr took him under his wing to help him make the transition from wide-eyed teenager to NHL star.

Cherepanov looked to be a special kid from the start. He had broken Pavel Bure's Super League record of 17 goals by a rookie with 18 goals in his first campaign in 2006-07, and his 29 points were more than were more than Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Ovechkin, or Evgeni Malkin had during their first Super League seasons. He helped the Russian World Junior team to a bronze medal this past year, and was named as one of the top forwards at the World Junior Championships in 2007 where he led all players with eight points en route to a silver medal finish.

In his career split between the KHL and the RSL, Cherepanov had played in 106 games, recording 40 goals and 29 assists. The young man already had seven goals and five assists in 14 games this season.

"We are extremely saddened by the tragic passing of Alexei," said New York Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather in a statement. "On behalf of the New York Rangers organization, I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his family. Alexei was an intelligent, energetic young man, with tremendous talent and an extremely bright future."

There was some concern over medical equipment available at the arena as the ambulance normally used by the arena had already been dispatched to the hospital. There were reports that it took "15 to 20 minutes" to get Cherepanov to the hospital where he was pronounced dead at 10:55pm Moscow time. Russian reports have not confirmed the details about the ambulance, but why he wasn't taken to one immediately seems to indicate that this may be the case.

In what brings back immediate memories of Sergei Zholtok passing away in Minsk after his heart stopped, perhaps it is time for the KHL to move into modern-day technology and get those portable auto-defibrillators in every rink. It saved Jiri Fischer's life in Detroit, and perhaps it could have helped here.

However, this is not the time for blame. Not in this time of tragic loss. Alexei Cherepanov, the Barnaul, Russia native, was only 19 years-old. My thoughts and prayers go out to his friends, family, and teammates in their time of loss. RIP young Leshu. You will be remembered by this writer.

Until next time, keep Cherepanov's friends, family, and teammates in your thoughts and prayers as well.

UPDATE: Russian officials have confirmed that there was no collision between Jagr and Cherepanov as they skated to the bench, but the two were chatting shortly before Cherepanov collapsed. Officials also confirmed that there was no ambulance at the arena, nor was there an auto-defibrillator. Cherepanov had looked strong in the game, scoring the first goal for Omsk, before he collapsed.

In the dressing room, Cherepanov was revived for a short time before he lost consciousness again. Investigators determined that Cherepanov had chronic ischemia, a condition where not enough blood gets to the heart and other organs. None of the NHL's or KHL's testing revealed this, so this is surprising. Cherepanov's agent, Jay Grossman, also said he was unaware of any pre-exisiting condition.

More updates to come.

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