The full schedule of play has resumed in the KHL, with most teams having played at least one game since the passing of Alexei Cherepanov in the Moscow suburb of Chekhov on Monday night. Throughout the league games have started with a moment of silence for the fallen Hawk, with many fans bringing banners of support or lighting candles to show their respect for a player widely considered the best young talent playing in Russia.
The lone team that hasn’t yet returned to action is his own, Avangard Omsk, who’s game on Saturday with Dynamo Moscow was rescheduled for October 25th at the club’s request. An “emotionally drained” team returned to practice on Thursday, starting the day with a “powerful” closed-door, players-only meeting convened by Jaromir Jagr.
The team will play their first game without their young star on Monday against Dynamo Minsk. Prior to the game, the club will raise Cherepanov’s number seven to the rafters of Omsk Arena. The game and (presumably) the pre-game ceremony will be available online beginning at 8:00am EDT.
To honor the 19-year old forward, the KHL is expected to name its award for top rookie — an award won by Cherepanov himself two years ago when he set the Russian Super League record for goals by a first year player — after him. KHL president Alexander Medvedev has expressed public support for the idea, but a formal announcement has not yet been made. There has also been talk of re-naming the arena in Omsk in Cherepanov’s honor, though nothing has been confirmed.
On Friday Sport-Express circulated the rumor that Omsk General Manager Anatoli Bardin’s dismissal was imminent, with the final straw that prompted the decision by the club’s Board of Directors being “his behavior at the time of the tragic loss of 19-year old Hawk forward Alexei Cherepanov.” According to Sport-Express, despite being present in Moscow, Bardin was conspicuously absent at Monday’s game against Vityaz and still missing later at both the hospital and at the hotel the team was taken to afterwards. Bardin vehemently denied these rumors, insisting that KHL officials and the team’s players themselves could confirm his presence at the hospital and hotel. Avangard president Konstantin Potapov reacted with surprise upon being told of the rumors, stating he had no idea where they might have gotten their start. He also confirmed that a clause in Cherepanov’s contract will see his parents compensated for his death in the amount of two times his annual salary.
Another report which was later proven false involved the alleged beating of the doctors who staffed the ambulance that transported Cherepanov to the hospital following his collapse in Checkov Monday night. Interfax originally reported that the ambulance staff was beaten by unknown suspects upon leaving work the following morning, leaving the ambulance driver hospitalized with a heart attack and another staff member in need of medical attention. These reports were later denied by the Moscow Municipal Department of Internal Affairs, who were able to find no evidence of any such attack.
In a sad display of misplaced anger that could be confirmed, the players of Vityaz Chekhov were greeted with chants of “murderers” when they took the ice in Togliatti on Saturday. Vityaz lost the game 7-4.
The investigation into the Cherepanov’s death continues, with the final report not expected for at least two more weeks. Vladimir Shalaev, chairman of the special commission created by the KHL to investigate the events surrounding Cherepanov’s death confirms that all requested documents from both Avangard and Vityaz have been received and that copies have been provided to law enforcement officials. The KHL has also asked the New York Rangers for copies of the results of the medical examination Cherepanov underwent at the NHL Combine prior to being drafted by the Rangers in 2007, with the hope that they will assist in identifying the cause of his death.
Members of the North American press — often as guilty of propaganda and hyperbole as the Russian press they malign for their own pro-KHL propaganda — have begun issuing their condemnations of the KHL as a whole for the medical treatment Cherepanov received at the arena in Chekhov, some even going so far as to suggest the tragedy could deal a mortal blow to the fledgling league. Jeff Z. Klein of the New York Times and Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski provide the best arguments for why that premise is both ridiculous and a wee bit hypocritical.
KHL rules stipulate that a certificate of readiness be signed by arena officials prior to the start of any game, confirming that all requirements for a game to begin have been met. Among other things, those requirements include the presence of an ambulance and the associated medical technicians to staff it. Shalaev confirmed that a certificate of readiness was in fact signed prior to the game in Chekhov on October 13th, and was presented to match officials, who, based on that information, allowed the game to take place. According to Shalaev, the public prosecutor has identified the parties responsible for the missing ambulance and medical staff, but will not reveal their identities or discuss possible punishment until the larger investigation is complete.
In the face of such a tragic and seemingly unjustifiable loss, all one can hope for is that it leads to changes that ensure that the situation is never repeated. And, encouragingly, changes are already occurring in Russia in response to Cherepanov’s death. KHL president Alexander Medvedev, in an interview with members of the Russian press on Wednesday, announced that when the KHL takes its next break for international competition (in November for the Karjala Cup), all young players in the league will be subjected to independent medical examinations by doctors of the league’s — not their teams’ — choosing. Medvedev promised to expand the practice of independent examinations to all players, regardless of age, in the future. And at least one club, AK Bars Kazan, has already signed a contract to have a second ambulance on site at all games. As in the NHL, one will be dedicated to the care of players and the second dedicated to looking after arena staff and fans.
Tributes to the young Russian star continue to flow in from across Russia. Television channel “Sport” dedicated the majority of their weekly hockey show Hockey Russia to Cherepanov this week. You can watch the hour-long program, at Sportbox.ru. The Russian show Overtime also dedicated their weekly broadcast exclusively to Cherepanov in a touching, if difficult to watch, tribute. You can download the program here (use the download link at bottom of page). Warning: there is a close up of Cherepanov in his casket at 11:55, and footage of Jagr saying goodbye at the cemetery at around 12:40 that I found particularly difficult to watch.
The Avangard Omsk web site has posted photo galleries of Cherepanov’s last game, and his funeral service on Wednesday. Additional photos from the funeral can be found here. Soviet Sport offers a collection of photos in memory of his life.
It’s difficult the convey the far-reaching impact Cherepanov’s death has had across Russia. Below is just a sample of reactions from people on both sides of the globe.
Atlant head coach Feodor Kanareikin, who coached Cherepanov on the Russian junior team (Soviet Sport):
“I knew Leshka for a very long time. Several years ago, when I trained the 1988-born Russian junior team, I took him to training camp. Already then, several years ago, one could see that a star was growing in Omsk. He’s a guy who, by talent, could be placed in the same rank with Malkin, Ovechkin, our other stars playing in the NHL. Cherepanov was a year younger than the other guys in that team of mine, but it was obvious that he was capable of special things, capable of making a goal from nothing…”
Igor Mirnov of Metallurg Magnitigorsk, after his team won a somber 5-0 victory over HK MVD on Thursday (Soviet Sport):
“Lyokha Cherepanov was a talent. Let this victory be in his memory. We will never forget him…”
Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Anton Babchuk, who played with Cherepanov on Avangard last season (Soviet Sport):
“I am in shock. I went on the internet to look at the KHL statistics, and it hit me like a hammer on the head. My deepest condolences to Alexei’s parents. Time will pass, and many will forget about this tragedy. But Lesha’s dad and mom will have to bear this misfortune in their hearts all their lives…”
Maxim Trunev, forward for Severstal and teammate of Cherepanov’s on the Russian junior team (Wobla.ru):
“He was a good person, a great guy, and an excellent hockey player. He was one of the leading players on the junior team; he was a true leader. You know, after such news one involuntarily reflects on the future. I’ve drawn for myself this conclusion: it is necessary in the future to be cautious, to watch over my health, allot more time rehabilitation.”
Avangard head coach Wayne Fleming, who took over the coaching job in Omskat the end of September (Globe and Mail):
“Coming over here you knew you’d have challenges. But never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen. He was a local Omsk guy. He had success all laid out in front of him. He was a local hero. It’s so hard to grasp. Regardless of what country you’re in, the worst sound you ever want to hear is a mother mourning her lost son.”
KHL President Alexander Medvedev (Soviet Sport):
“I read somewhere that the chances of saving Alexei Cherepanov were 50-50. But even if there was one chance in a thousand, it was not used. That’s the most regrettable part of this story. We need to find out why this happened.”
“And it’s necessary to answer one question without waiting for the conclusions of the medical examination. There are requirements in the regulations which clearly define obligations for holding games. That there is medical equipment at all mass cultural events, whether it be sports, a concert or a show. A committee of the KHL was there in Chekhov in September, and signed a certificate of compliance of the Vityaz stadium to our specification — at the time everything was normal, including the medical crew, ambulance… So why is this certificate now broken? Why was an ambulance not found at the stadium at the most necessary moment?”
Rangers forward Nikolai Zherdev (RIA Novisti):
“Here they take check ups of the heart and medical examinations in general very thoroughly — starting at the toes and finishing at the head, they test everything. If he passed the New York Rangers medical [exam] in training camp… and if nothing was shown here, it is hard for me to say, how this could happen. They give great attention to the medical [exam] here, and especially to the heart. I heard that there was a collision with another player. Maybe that also had an influence — it’s difficult to say.”
“I never managed to play with him. I didn’t see him play live, but saw his performance for the Russian junior team on TV… He was drafted by New York and they had great expectations for him here as a player. I think, that such a player like this could become a real star. He had a superb scoring sense.”
Pavel Datsyuk, who was present in Detroit when teammate Jiri Fischer collapsed on the bench in November 2005 (Soviet Sport):
“I don’t want to compare how it is in America and how it is in Russia. It’s necessary not to draw parallels, but to make sure that such tragedies are not repeated. Such cases are rare, but it’s necessary to be ready for them. When Jiri Fischer’s heart stopped, a team of doctor’s snapped into action. They understood quickly what was happening. Again, a defibrillator was near at hand. The defibrillator, a stretcher and ambulance always need to be available at the arena. That is self-evident. And in the NHL this is not placed in any doubt. The doctors in Detroit, before each season, pass special courses on rendering first aid.
My deepest condolences to the family and those close to Alexei. It is painful loss.”
Dr. Anthony Colucci, the Detroit Red Wings doctor credited with saving the life of Jiri Fischer when he collapsed in 2005, on the initial diagnosis by Russian authorities that Cherepanov suffered from a pre-existing condition called “chronic ischemia” (TSN):
“I would say it’s highly unusual, virtually unheard of, for an elite 19-year-old athlete to have chronic ischemia. Ischemia is a coronary vessel disease, and you can see it on an EKG (electrocardiogram). It’s not that hard to detect. And to say a 19 year old has ‘chronic’ ischemia, I mean he’s only 19, how chronic can it be? I am not saying ischemia can’t kill a person but if that was the cause of death I can’t tell you how unusual or rare that would be in this instance.”
Colucci on the possibility that immediate medical attention and the use of a defibrillator could have saved Cherepanov’s life:
“There is nothing that guarantees anything 100 percent, but if you do the CPR properly and use defibrillation, your chances (of revival) increase dramatically, they go way, way up. If you only do CPR, they go way, way down. If you only do defibrillation, they go way, way down.”
Alexander Kostyakov, Avangard Omsk video operator on his friend Alexei Cherepanov (Soviet Sport):
“Lesha was a child at heart. He simply had to grow up very early. You know, he had two radio-controlled cars. Lyokha went out in the courtyard of his house, took them and drove them. A pile of children gathered. They cheerfully shouted: ‘Uncle Lesha has come!’ They’d take his cars and organize races. You should have seen his face during these moments…”
Cherepanov’s mother, Margarita Cherepanov, who was on an overnight train en route to Omsk to visit her son when she received news of his death at 3am Tuesday morning (Izvestia):
“I was to come to Omsk. He called me at 8 in the evening on the on the 13th and asked if I was coming. I said: ‘The only train is at 9:30pm.’ ‘I’ll meet you in the morning,’ he answered. ‘Get more rest,’ I started to object. But he repeated ‘I’ll meet you in the morning. At the same time I can tell you about the game.’ Those were his last words…”
“Lesha, since three years old, as soon as he learned to stand on skates, said ‘I will be a hockey player!’ It was his dream to play with Jagr. Jaromir was his idol. The dream came true, they even became friends.”
“He loved it here very much, and he was crazy about this city. He said that even from America, it would make no difference, he would return here.”
Andrei Cherepanov, father of Alexei Cherepanov (Soviet Sport):
“It is very hard for us now. So hard, that there are no words and emotions. Forgive me that for so long I tormented you about your mother. We didn’t communicate after the divorce, and you were torn between us, tried to reconcile us. And so, my dear son. Sleep easy. I have reconciled with your mother… Its a pity that it happened under such awful circumstances… I promise you, I won’t abandon her and will always support her. Forgive me, son…”
Severstal defenseman and Team Russia teammate, Maxim Chudinov (Wobla.ru):
“I still can’t believe it, it is very painful for me right now. I want to express my condolences to his parents. He was always healthy, I didn’t hear about any problems with his heart, besides, we at each [Russian junior team] camp passed a medical examination. Especially when we went to the World Championships — a multitude of doctors examined us. I was close friends with Alexei, at tournaments we were often roommates, we even shared the same agent. We talked a lot about the future — he very much wished to test himself in the NHL. He was sure that everything would work out.”
Andrei Cherepanov on his son’s future in North America (Soviet Sport):
“Of course he dreamed of playing in North America. And his whole family, everyone in our village of Ozerki where Leshka was born were proud of the boy when he was drafted by the Rangers in 2007. They chose him in the first round, which means they were depending upon him very seriously. The management of the Rangers invited him to be there in the team already this season, but he firmly decided that for exactly one year he would play for Avangard — the team that had become his family.”
Atlant head coach Feodor Kanareikin on the suggestion that that the KHL’s rookie of the year award be named after Cherepanov (Soviet Sport):
“It is a very competent idea. In fact two years ago Cherepanov became the strongest young player of league and has received this prize. I think that this is a perfectly reasonable to do just that. I heard also that in Omsk they wish to name the arena in Alexei’s name. Of course… the decision will be accepted by the authotiy of the governor of the Omsk region, Leonid Polezhaev. But I would also name not only the arena after Alexei, but also the street nearest to it.”
Omsk head coach Wayne Fleming, on returning to work after Cherepanov’s death (ESPN):
“I met with the team on the ice just prior to our practice on Thursday morning, which was kind of traumatic. I only knew the young man 17 days, but he was that kind of individual that could leave the kind of an impression on you. So, we talked about how in North America, when we have a tragedy or someone is taken away, we always talk about cherishing the memory. I told them even though I’ve only known Alexei for a short period of time, this young guy will stay with me until I’m done. The best way we can respect and honor him is to carry on our lives and play the way he played, which was with great energy, great determination and a lot of fun.”
Fleming on Jaromir Jagr, who had taken the young forward under his wing:
“I have a lot of respect for this guy. He’s a top-notch, quality individual. When this came up, he took it very hard. He spent hours with this young man. He talked to him all the time, always had his arm around him, joking with him. He had a real tough time when this happened. I think [Jagr] was many times maybe misread in North America; he wasn’t given enough credit for how strong a character person he is and how much caring he has. I have the utmost respect for him.”
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