Wayne Fleming’s short and chaotic career as coach of Avangard Omsk was dominated by the death of budding superstar and New York Rangers prospect Alexei Cherepanov on October 13, 2008. Less than three months later, Fleming was on his way back to North America, his Russian coaching experience over after his shattered team faltered in the KHL standings.
Last week Fleming, who’s résumé includes assistant coaching stints with five different NHL teams as well Team Canada, was hired as an assistant by the Tampa Bay Lightning. St. Petersburg Times writer Damian Christodero took some time to get to know the newest member of the revamped Lightning coaching staff, and their conversation focused on Fleming’s experience in Russia and Cherepanov’s untimely death.
Is there anything you take from what happened?
From a team perspective, it was like taking a crystal vase and dropping it on the concrete floor and trying to pick up the shattered pieces. It was devastating. But it was the individual, too, that passed away. The thing that really hurts is not only do we lose a great player, we’re missing just a fantastic young man. He had a great smile on his face. He was the golden boy of the KHL.
What do you recall about the incident?
When he first collapsed, there was about five minutes left in the game. It was Jagr who yelled at me and said, “Wayne! Wayne! We need help!” And I looked down, and Jagr was holding Aleksei on his lap on the bench. I could tell right away he was in trouble, and the doctors got to him and wanted to take him off the bench. They applied CPR. All I could think of was, “Oh, my God, no.”
What impact did Aleksei have in Omsk?
This is a city of a million people in the middle of Siberia. When we had the ceremony and the funeral for him, it was in the arena. Prior to that, there was a (viewing) from 11 o’clock in the morning to 1 o’clock. During those two hours, 60,000 people went by his coffin; the youngest was probably 4 to I’d say the late 90s. When they closed the door to start the funeral, there were another 40,000 people estimated waiting who never got to walk by and pay tribute to Aleksei. You’re talking about a town of a million that had over 100,000 people there to pay their respects.
For more from Fleming, see Christodero’s full article at TampaBay.com.
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