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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    Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

    Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg (3) is hit by St. Louis Blues center Paul Stastny (26) during the second period in Game 1 in the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs Friday, April 29, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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    The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

    Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.

    As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.

    The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.

    Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.

    Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.

    Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.

     

    Video: Roussel opens the scoring for Dallas and Elliott wasn’t happy about it

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    The Dallas Stars grabbed the all-important first goal in Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues on Friday. And it was agitating forward Antoine Roussel who capitalized in the second period.

    Roussel buried a rebound at the end of a pretty passing play from the Stars. Blues goalie Brian Elliott was furious, as defenseman Jay Bouwmeester slid into the crease in an attempt to block the shot.

    WATCH LIVE: Nashville Predators at San Jose Sharks – Game 1

    Nashville Predators' Paul Gaustad, left, defends against San Jose Sharks' Joel Ward (42) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in San Jose, Calif. Nashville won 2-1. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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    After stunning the Anaheim Ducks with a Game 7 win in the first round, the Nashville Predators remain in California to take on the San Jose Sharks in the second round. You can catch Game 1 on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

    CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

    Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

    Sharks have some ‘pent up energy,’ eager to start series with Preds

    Game 7 win is ‘a big step’ for Predators

    Burns, Doughty, Karlsson named finalists for 2016 Norris Trophy

    Ottawa Senators' Erik Karlsson poses with the James Norris Memorial Trophy after winning the award at the NHL Awards show Wednesday, June 24, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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    Brent Burns, Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson have been named finalists for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, but the debate about who should win is likely to persist right through to June 22 and the annual NHL Awards.

    Not only did Karlsson, last year’s Norris winner, lead all blue liners is points with 82, he led the league in assists with 66 and finished tied with Joe Thornton for fourth in the entire NHL in total points. Those lofty offensive totals could make the Ottawa Senators star the clear favorite to claim the award for a third time in his career.

    From NHL.com:

    Karlsson is the first NHL defenseman to score at least 82 in a season since Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers (85 points) and Ray Bourque of the Boston Bruins (82 points) in 1995-96.

    Burns — is there an award for most outrageous beard? — is also coming off an impressive regular season, finishing just shy of the 30-goal mark with 27 and 75 points in 82 games for the Sharks. He’s also had a strong showing in the post-season, as well, with eight points in the opening round versus L.A.

    Doughty’s offensive numbers don’t match up with the production from Karlsson or Burns, with 51 points in 82 games for the Kings. There were eight defensemen ahead of him in overall point production. But he’s often recognized for logging hefty amounts of ice time, averaging 28:01 in the regular season, on a Kings team that often dominates puck possession at even strength.

    “If you’re going to win, I don’t care how good you are, you’re going to have to play the other side of the puck,” Kings GM Dean Lombardi recently said to the Associated Press.

    “You’re going to have to make those little plays that aren’t going to show up on the highlights. (Doughty’s) defensive partners — the little things he’ll do just to get his partner time to make a play. He’s three steps ahead of everything, and because he is that, he makes it look easy.”