14 October 2008

Rest in Peace, Alexei

Before the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils faced off tonight at Madison Square Garden, a moment of silence was observed for Alexei Cherepanov.

Cherepanov, a Rangers first-round draft pick in 2007, died after collapsing during a Continental Hockey League game in Moscow last night. He was 19.

The Ice Hockey Center 2004, is a small arena in Chekhov that holds 3,300. Chekhov is a city with a population of 72,000, about 40 miles south of Moscow.

Former Rangers Captain Jaromir Jagr, a teammate on the Avangard Omsk, was with Cherepanov when he collapsed.

Alexei at the Mermaid Parade

Although few details were immediately available, the Associated Press quoted Cherepanov's agent, Jay Grossman:

"He was skating in on a 2-on-1 with Jaromir and then they came back to the bench. Jaromir was talking to him and he told him he has to score on that play. The next thing you know, he collapsed. [Jagr] went with him into the dressing room area and they revived him for some time and then he didn’t make it."
Although it is not yet known what caused Cherepanov's death, the first thought that came to mind was Hank Gathers, whose sudden death in 1990 during a college basketball game left people stunned and shaken. He was 23, and the cause of death was said to be related to a heart disorder.

Then there was Reggie Lewis of the Boston Celtics, Thomas Herrion of the San Francisco 49ers, Jason Collier of the Atlanta Hawks, former major league pitcher Joe Kennedy and Olympic marathon hopeful Ryan Shay -- all died in their 20s of heart-related complications. Like Gathers, Lewis, Herrion and Shay were were undergoing, or had just completed, physical exertion.

The most sobering thought: According to the latest medical statistics, sudden cardiac arrest is still the leading cause of death among young athletes, claiming a young life in this country every three or four days.

The Rangers selected Cherepanov with the 17th pick in the draft last year. He had been expected to go higher, but teams reportedly shied away from picking him because of the eroding relationship between the N.H.L. and the Russian leagues, which has become a barrier to signing some drafted players. Rangers management had been trying to work out a deal with Cherepanov’s team, Avangard Omsk of the Continental league, for him to join the Rangers this year. There was no agreement, so Cherepanov was going to spend at least this season in Russia.

“It doesn’t appear there was a triggering event,” said Grossman, who said he spoke to other players in the game as well as people attending it. “Obviously it was his heart that just gave way. That is pretty clear.”

The crowd was apparently unaware of the seriousness of Cherepanov’s condition, and the game resumed after he was moved from the bench after collapsing. A reporter doing a minute-by-minute account of the game for the Web site sportbox.ru noted only that “someone on the Avangard bench is unconscious or ill” and that it was an “incomprehensible situation — a player simply cannot get up from the bench.”

One of the nicest stories I heard was when Alexei was 12 years old he left his hometown, moved to Omsk because he wanted to become a hockey player.

Alexei Cherepanov, R.I.P.

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