Heart Conditions, A Growing Concern for Young Hockey Players

Jack PorterCorrespondent IOctober 14, 2008

In the wake of New York Ranger prospect Alexei Cherepanov's tragic passing during a Kontinental Hockey League game, we take a look at how heart conditions are effecting young hockey players.

Alexei Cherepanov apparently had chronic ischemia, a medical condition that occurs when the heart or other organs do not receive enough blood. Cherepanov was 19-years-old.

"A person should not be allowed to take part in competition if he has ischemic heart disease," Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said. "This means that in fact there is no preliminary health control and monitoring. And this system should be very well-defined."

"It was really kind of a surreal thing for the players," Cherepanov's agent, Jay Grossman, said. "He was skating in on a 2-on-1 with Jaromir (Jagr) 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."

Grossman also said he has been told that players in the Russian league receive regular heart and blood tests, similar to those given in the NHL.

This situation is very tragic, but not new.

Last February, the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Junior Hockey League suddnely lost their 19 year old captain, Mickey Renaud. In a public statement, his family said an autopsy determined that the he died of a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a disease of the myocardium (the muscle of the heart) in which a part of the myocardium is thickened without a known cause. It is perhaps most famous as a leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes.

The Spitfires have retired Renaud's number 18.

An incident a little closer to home for NHL fans happened during a game on November 21, 2005, between the Detroit Red Wings and the Nashville Predators.

Detriot player Jiri Fischer collapsed suddenly on the Red Wings bench and had gone into cardiac arrest. He was saved by CPR and by a defibrillator.

Fischer may have been suffering from either ventricular tachycardia (a type of racing heartbeat) or ventricular fibrillation (a condition where there is contractions of the cardiac muscle of the ventricles in the heart,) making them tremble.

Jiri is still yet to resume his hockey career and has suffered from another abnormal cardiac rhythm.The Red Wings have let Fischer keep his locker at Joe Louis Arena, and his nameplate still appears over his stall.

Hoby Baker Award winner and current Tampa Bay Lightning player, Matthew Carle has had his life touched by this problem as well.

Matt's brother, David, was projected to be selected in the first two rounds of the 2008 NHL entry draft, but during the yearly prospect combine, he was diagnosed with a heart condition that puts him at risk for sudden cardiac death if he works himself too strenuously.

David had to cut his career short. He retired from hockey. As a nice gesture, the Tampa Bay Lightning selected David with there seventh round pick 203rd overall.

Young hockey players need to become aware of these risks. Also, professional sports leagues need to implement more effective tests to diagnose these problems before its to late.

Alexei Cherepanov 1989 - 2008

Mickey Renaud 1988-2008