On Friday Soviet Sport published an in-depth interview with former Ranger and current Avangard Omsk forward Jaromir Jagr, in which he candidly discusses the death of his teammate and friend, Alexei Cherepanov.
Jaromir Jagr: I Desperately Prayed that Lyosha’s Heart Would Start Working… A Candid Conversation About Life and Death with the Famous Avangard Forward
October 24, 2007 â„–158 (17655)
The great Czech hockey player has given an interview to a Soviet Sport correspondent in which he thoroughly discussed the details of the loss of his young friend Alexei Cherepanov.
“IF I WAS THE HEAD GUY IN THE KHL…”
Jagr meets me after the game in the Avangard restaurant. He just played against Dynamo Riga and his Hawks have lost (2:3). Everyone’s mood in such a situation should be worse than ever. Especially since any conversation with reporters now boils down to the one sad topic of Alexei Cherpanov. But Jagr is an incredibly positive person. And very professional. Right, then we’ll have a talk. No problem.
We didn’t have time to start the interview, as towards our little table came Bob Goodenow. Previously — president of the NHL players union of which Jagr was a member. Now — advisor to the KHL who has specially flown into Omsk in connection with the Cherepanov tragedy.
- I see that I distract you. Excuse me. I’ll only be a minute, – Goodnoew is delicate. He greets Jagr, squeezes his hand.
- Do you know, Bob, if next year the in the KHL there will be any changes in the regulations? – Jagr asks of his old acquaintance.
- For now we’re in the discussion process. But what interests you?
- The limit on foreigners [KHL teams are currently limited to 5 foreign players, 4 if one of them is a goaltender]. I think, that if it were to be increased, many strong hockey players would arrive in Russia from overseas. There’s almost no doubt that after this season the salary cap in the NHL will be lowered greatly. For that matter, if earlier the fees of players passed 56% of league revenue, then in a year the level will be lowered to 50%. Many teams have already signed long-term contracts with 5-6 leading players…
- We known, Jaromir, about those contracts. Gomez, $10 million for a season, Drury, $10 million… – Goodenow lists the Rangers forwards with which Jagr played last season.
- Exactly. And so it will be very difficult for these teams to sign new agreements with their remaining 15 players. There can’t be enough money. And here the KHL’s initiative should be to grab them. For an average NHL player there simply won’t be another choice. They’ll come to Russia, and they’ll sign for realistically reasonable money.
- Interesting conversation, Jaromir” – I say when Goodenow leaves. – You’d make a good president of the players union. So do you think, that the in the KHL in general, its necessary to abolish the limit on foreigners?
- I didn’t say that. But if I were the head of the Russian league, I would do everything possible for its prosperity. So? This is only one such opportunity to do so. I’m simply sharing my ideas. But I don’t make the decisions.
“THERE WAS HOPE FOR RESCUE”
- I understand, Jaromir, that this topic is painful. But I can’t not ask about Cherepanov. Especially since you still haven’t spoken about it in detail. In the media they wrote that in the last minutes of his life Lesha sat near you on the bench, and you talked over how you’d barely failed to take advantage of a 2-on-1…
- I’m already worn out explaining that I could not have been on the ice with Cherepanov. Because both of us are right wings. Will you now ask also, whether it’s true that I accidentally struck him in the chest with my elbow and because of it Alexei’s heart stopped? – Jagr wearily inquires.
- Just talk about how the tragedy happened.
- Everyone says that Cherepanov came off the ice, sat down on the bench, and immediately became ill. But in fact, after his line change a half minute passed. And only then Alexei fell onto the team doctor who stood behind him. Nobody understood what had happened. I though he simply lost consciousness.
- And then the chaos began…
- It’s a natural reaction to such a situation. And I myself don’t remember clearly what I did in those minutes, who I called. Everyone tried to wake Cherepanov, but were in no way successful.
- Were you shocked that no ambulance was found at the arena in Chekhov?
- At the time my thoughts were not occupied by that at all. I desperately prayed that Lesha’s heart would start working again. When they took him away to the hospital, we went to a church. They told us that he was still alive. There was hope that he’d be saved. We said a prayer. But then we found out that Lesha was no longer with us…
- Many now say: “If such a thing happened in the NHL, Cherapanov would be saved for sure”.
- I can’t say that. Because I’m not a doctor. Yes, I know that Wings defenseman Jiri Fischer survived the same situation in Detroit. But he was very lucky. Everything was done perfectly. Doctors were on site, there was a charged defibrillator available to them, they instantly started to render aid to the victim. And everyone understood what he had to do.
But nobody knows if Alexei would have survived if such timely aide was provided to him. It is only known to god…
“WHO WOULD IT HELP?”
- Getting back to the ridiculous rumor… This is the most monstrous thing that’s been written about me – said Jagr. I can put up with any gossip. But when it has to do with the death of another person… Guys, this just isn’t funny.
- What would you do with the journalist who started this false report, that Cherepanov was lost because of a collision with you?
- I understand why reporters of the yellow press do this dirty work. I know, that in the Czech Republic there is tabloid press. They invent such nonsense that god forbid if it was even five percent truth. I know how this gossip factory works.
But I never respected such journalists. When you write something, it’s always necessary to think about the consequences. How it can hurt other people. However these reporters think only of themselves.
- When you learned about this rumor, did the desire not arise in you to collect your things and leave Russia?
- Who would that help?
- Not true. It wouldn’t become easier for me… I’m not going to pack up my things, abandon this league, our Avangard, just because some idiots have written incredible, loathsome things about me.
“AS IF I HAVE LOST A CLOSE RELATIVE”
- What exactly do you recollect about Cherepanov now?
- 98 percent, heartwarming memories about him. Different events, how we communicated, how we joked… And two percent, that black Monday. When before my eyes rises the picture of how Alexei died in Chekhov. But as more time passes, the less you think about the tragedy. In your memories remain only the good.
It’s difficult to put into words, but hockey is a different sport. On each team there are 20-30 people and we’re all like one family. We work together, we live together on the road.
- If Avangard is your family, then Cherpanov was the younger brother?
- Many people in the world have lost someone from their family. Lesha’s death is about the same as the loss of one’s parents, wives or a child. That kind of powerful blow.
- Now the players union of the KHL is thinking about bringing in restrictions for hockey players who are 21-years old or younger. To have them play fewer games in a season, to avoid overwork.
- I know that Bob Goodenow has called this idea nonesense. And I agree with him. It’s not like we play a lot of games in Russia. The KHL schedule doesn’t bear any comparison to the NHL. Here there are 56 games in the regular season, there, 82. Moreover, overseas there are often back-to-back games. Four games a week is common. And its OK, all the young survive. Think about Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk. At the same 19 years of age Crosby spent a half an hour on the ice during games.
It’s not right to tie the cause of Cherepanov’s death with the schedule. There’s nothing to it.
- And how do hockey players pass the medical board in the NHL?
- They did tests on us once each year at the beginning of the season, in training camp. In the KHL — at least in Avangard — they were better with it. Here before the season they did two tests on us at once: not only the electrocardiogram, but also an ultrasound — that wasn’t done in the NHL.
- Did Cherepanov have problems with his heart?
- I don’t know. In general nobody understands what he died of. And so suddenly! The 19-year old boy had only just flown down the ice, scored a goal. And suddenly he’s no longer here. Such a thing, you’ll agree, happens very rarely.
It’s possible that Alexei had some problem with his heart which is difficult to detect at the time of examination. If I were a doctor, I could give you a concrete answer. But not everyone in this world is a doctor. On the other hand, everyone has their opinion on matters of their work.
It could also be that a guy’s heart reacts differently to different loads. If he spent a minute on the ice, everything is fine. If three minutes, he’s unwell. But again, these are my guesses. I wait with impatience for the middle of November when they will announce the results of the work of the commission. I want to know why Cherepanov died.
“THIS BEARD BRINGS ME GOOD LUCK”
- Let’s change the subject. Soon in America the presidential elections will take place. For whom will you vote — for Obama or McCain?
- Wait a minute, I’m Czech.
- But do you really not have an American passport?
- Why would I have one?
- It’s convenient to travel around the world without visas. When our NHLers play overseas for more than five years, they almost always get themselves the second citizenship. And you’ve played in the NHL since 1990.
- Yes, I don’t need a US passport. Besides, under our laws if I receive another’s citizenship, I lose Czech citizenship. And even in a terrible dream I can’t conceive of such a thing. I’m Czech – forever!
- Patriotism for you — a common word, or is it something more?
- If anyone in the world is asked what they think of their homeland, they will answer: I love it very much. Jaromir Jagr is no exception. I love the Czech Republic, I like living in Europe.
But love of country is tested in difficult situations. If someone shouts from every corner about patriotism, but doesn’t help his homeland when she is in trouble, what kind of patriot is he?
In Russians this sense is strongly developed. They have won the second World War. They showed character. And didn’t lift their mitts upwards, like some other countries which surrendered even before the fight…
- It’s interesting that now the best scorers in the NHL are Russian: Ovechkin, Malkin, Datsyuk. And in the KHL, Czechs have the most points: Marek and Jagr.
- So what of it? – slyly speaks Jaromir.
- In fact… have you ever played on the same team as Marek?
- I haven’t had the occasion to.
- But have you heard his comment from a recent interview? “Let Jagr be photographed for advertising, I’ll score goals.”
- Wow, he said that? Don’t take that guy seriously. Czechs in general have a very good sense of humor. But if Marek wasn’t joking, he’ll regret it even more. Those who attack me will without fail be made a fool of, – loudly laughs Jagr.
- Magnitogorsk already has already been tested once when in 2005 they lost the quarterfinal to Avangard, and you scored the winning goal in overtime.
- I’ll remind you, that we went down 0-2 in that series. I will always remember that fifth game. All the more so because a number of class players played in it. For example, I scored the goal on Evgeni Nabokov, one of the best goaltenders in the world.
- And finally, a totally frivolous question… in general, why do you have that little beard? No one in Russia wears such a thing.
- Everyone has their talismans. And so my beard is for good luck, – Jaromir raises his eyebrows.
- Did your girlfriend Inna suggest such an idea?
- Are you joking? She hates this little beard. Says to me various bad words…
- Like what?
- That with it I look like a goat, – Jagr is flooded with laughter. – But she should understand the most important thing. I have this beard, and with it I’m as frightening as the devil. So it’s all good. She can’t possibly be jealous. What girl will pay attention to me now?
…When the interview ended, Jaromir went to the door and met his girlfriend Inna Puhajkova. Holding his stomach, Jagr told her that we had just discussed the most pressing topic in their family. And that now all of Russia will talk about the beard of the Avangard forward.
- If you remember, Jaromir grew it already last season, – Inna informs with a smile when Jagr leaves for the cloakroom. – At the time he told me: “The Rangers will play in the play-offs, therefore I must grow something like this.” When I saw this little beard I said “Oh my god!’” And gave him the condition: if it serves you well and you score goals, I’ll let it be. But if you don’t play well, you have to think up something else.
Now, when I arrived in Omsk and again see this creature, I exclaimed: “Jaromir, what is this? The playoffs have not yet begun!”
“But I like it!” he answered. He says it brings good luck. And how can you argue with these men? It’s pointless!
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