Alexei Cherepanov: Don't Believe Everything You Read

Sergei MiledinAnalyst IOctober 15, 2008

It has been three days since news spread around the hockey world about the sudden and tragic death of 19-year-old star Alexei Cherepanov.

Known to his friends and hockey family as Lyoshka, Cherepanov displayed character on and off the ice. Selected by the New York Rangers in 2007, his skill was heralded by many as the next big player to don a NHL sweater.

All of that changed when Cherepanov, after failing to score on a two-on-one with former Ranger Jaromir Jagr, collapsed on the bench of a reported heart failure. Since then, many different opinions and finger pointing has risen in Russia regarding his death.

According to regional investigator Yulia Zhukova, Cherepanov suffered from ischemic heart disease—a condition where the heart fails to receive enough blood. What is interesting about this suggestion is that no doctors, documents—or anything for that matter—were quoted.

In fact, after searching vigorously through the Internet in both English and Russian, I found nothing about the background of Zhukova. While it may be surprising to some, Russia has always been hush-hush about its downfalls.

This was more evident during the days of the Soviet Union, when plane crashes, subway-escalator accidents, and other tragedies went intentionally unreported. To this day, the government monitors many of the television channels, and journalists rarely speak their mind in fear of losing their lives.

From the get-go, things have been unclear. First, the report of the on-ice collision between Jagr and Cherepanov has been denied and dubbed as fabricated. Next, the game of yes or no of the whereabouts of the ambulance has also been played, with sources saying it had to be called back since the game was almost over.

Hours after these allegations went public, TSN reported that for a person so young such as Cherepanov, ischemica would be virtually unheard of. Their source was Dr. Anthony Colucci, the Detroit Red Wings team physician and emergency-room doctor, and one of the men responsible for saving the life of Jiri Fischer in 2005.

Fischer, like Cherepanov, collapsed on the bench due to cardiac arrest, but thanks to the swift action of Dr.Colucci and other trained men in the arena his life was saved. He added that had Cherepanov suffered from ischemia, there would be no way it would have gone undetected by the various tests all draftees are subject to.

The Rangers medical staff also ran tests when Cherepanov attended training camp in 2007. Another Russian source has stated that negligence on the part of the ambulance staff and improper defibrillators. Had both been present, Cherepanov's life might have been saved. Russian hockey officials have threatened legal action.

This terrible event will most likely be the biggest blemish on the newly formed KHL, which is in its first full season replacing the Russian Super League. The league, which has dubbed itself as the next best thing to the NHL, should be embarrassed for the failure to offer top-of-the-line medical equipment. Instead of luring players with big-money contracts, they should focus on the necessities needed to provide the best possible equipment and training.

If they want to be as good as the NHL (which will probably never happen), they should adopt the NHL's policy regarding having two ambulances in each arena, and having trained medical staff 50 feet from the bench. Only then can they be considered the second-best hockey league in the world.

On Wednesday, thousands gathered to Cherepanov's coffin, which was placed on a red carpet on the ice at Omsk Arena. Later, those same people would follow the coffin to a cemetery not far from the arena to bid their final goodbyes.

Among them was Jagr, who added the last piece of earth onto the coffin as it was lowered into the ground. The club has confirmed that Cherepanov's No.7 jersey will be retired.