New Lightning assistant Wayne Fleming reflects on coaching in Russia, Alex Cherepanov's death

cherepanov.jpgI’ve stated it before – and mentioned it last night on a podcast – but the Southeast Division is transforming from “the Washington Capitals and a bunch of misfits” to possibly the most fascinating division in hockey. From the Caps will-they-or-won’t-they story to the resounding transformations of the Panthers, Thrashers and Lightning, it’s a group that has popcorn flick appeal for hockey dorks.

Even if he hadn’t recently been added to the Lightning staff, new assistant coach Wayne Fleming would be a fascinating and tragic figure. The St. Petersburg Times featured an interesting (and soul-crushing) story on Fleming, who reflected on his complex experiences coaching overseas in Russia. While the article includes intriguing discussion of failed NHL player Alex Svitov, the dominant storyline regarded Fleming’s experience dealing with the stunning death of prospect Alex Cherepanov. The New York Rangers first round pick died during a KHL game on October 13, 2008.

These three question and answer paragraphs absolutely haunted me this morning.

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.

One hundred thousand people showed up for Cherepanov’s funeral. My goodness.

You don’t shake the memory of losing a player – especially right in front of your eyes, especially one so young and promising. It’s pretty hard to root against someone like Fleming. Hopefully he can move beyond that horrible incident and help the Lightning turn things around.

Let me leave you with a 2007 video of Cherepanov discussing being drafted into the NHL. It’s heartbreaking to watch in retrospect.

 

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    Playoff hopes take a jolt: Coyotes crush Bishop and the Bolts

    NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning tends net against the New York Islanders during the second period at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Of the surprises in the NHL so far this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning has to be right up there on the list.

    In 2015, they went to the Stanley Cup Final. The future had looked bright, but this signified the Bolts’ arrival into the top tier of teams in the league. Last season, they made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final and lost to the eventual champions from Pittsburgh. That was a playoff run that did not include Steven Stamkos until the deciding game of the East final.

    This year? The Bolts are currently not in a playoff position. They’ve had issues defensively. They’ve had issues on offense. They’ve had issues with goaltending. They’ve dealt with injuries or illness to key players like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, and other important members of their lineup.

    Looking to gain ground in the playoff chase, the Bolts had what looked to be the perfect opponent to mend their troubles — at least for one game. On Saturday, Tampa Bay faced the Arizona Coyotes, losers of four in a row and sitting above only Colorado in the Western Conference standings.

    The perfect remedy, right?

    Wrong. So wrong.

    The Bolts lost 5-3, mostly because of a disastrous opening two periods. Ben Bishop started and was pulled after 40 minutes, allowing five goals on 17 shots.

    Down a goal after the first period, things went south for the Bolts in the middle period. The Coyotes — one of only two teams in the entire league still stuck under 100 goals-for entering this game — beat Bishop for three goals on just nine shots in the second.

    The Bolts are dead last in the Atlantic Division, five points back of third-place Boston. They are four points back of Toronto for the final wild card spot, but there are seven teams ahead of Tampa Bay in that race.

    There is still lots of time left in the season. But the Bolts had stressed the importance and urgency needed on this current six-game road trip, and they haven’t delivered.

    A loss to the Coyotes would certainly seem like rock bottom.

    Hartnell’s winner halts Hurricanes comeback attempt

    DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 24:  Scott Hartnell #43 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on October 24, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Blue Jackets defeated the Avalanche 4-3.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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    COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game midway through the third period to push the Columbus Blue Jackets over the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 on Saturday night.

    Hartnell scored in the first period and got the tiebreaker in the third, helping the Blue Jackets overcome a terrible second period to beat the Hurricanes for the second time this week. Carolina has lost three straight.

    Markus Hannikainen also scored, and Sergei Bobrovsky had 35 saves for Columbus.

    Sebastian Aho and Justin Faulk scored in the second period for Carolina. Michael Leighton, recalled from Charlotte of the AHL on Thursday, started in place of Cam Ward and stopped 17 shots.

    Hannikainen poked in the first goal for Columbus 4:49 into the game off a rebound in front of Carolina’s net. The shot through traffic resulted in the first goal and point of the 23-year-old rookie’s NHL career.

    About 10 minutes later, Hartnell got a breakaway and slammed a slap shot past Leighton’s glove from just inside the blue line to put Columbus up 2-0 at the first break.

    “I just tried to bury my head and shoot as hard as I could,” Hartnell said.

    The second period belonged to the Hurricanes.

    Carolina got the first one back on a power play 9:05 in when Aho picked up the loose puck off Jaccob Slavin‘s blocked slap shot and found the net from eight feet out.

    Justin Faulk tied it at 2 when he carried the puck through the neutral zone and snapped off a shot from the right circle that rattled off the bar and in with 4:33 left. Carolina outshot Columbus 9-2 in the period, and Blue Jackets players went to the penalty box four times.

    Hartnell got the winner when he took a pass from Sam Gagner and knocked it in from 13 feet with 9:35 left.

    Carolina pulled the goalie with 2:32 left but couldn’t tie it.

    Video: The Sabres weren’t happy with Emelin after dangerous hit on Moulson

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    Alexei Emelin has once again drawn the ire of opposing players.

    This time, it was the Buffalo Sabres responding to a hit thrown by Emelin, who caught Matt Moulson with a dangerous hit from behind into the boards during the second period of their game on Saturday.

    A massive scrum ensued right over top of Emelin and Moulson along the boards.

    Emelin, who has a history of massive and questionable hits throughout his career (See here, here and here for examples) was given a minor penalty for boarding on the play.

    Video: Simmonds drops the gloves with Wood

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    Wayne Simmonds is not only a productive power forward, but he’s one tough customer.

    He showed that again Saturday, dropping the gloves with Miles Wood of the New Jersey Devils during the first period.

    The fight occurred right after Wood drove Radko Gudas hard into the boards on the forecheck. The scrap didn’t last long, however, with Simmonds landing a few shots and then taking the Devils forward to the ice.

    Simmonds was assessed an extra roughing minor.