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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    NHL on NBCSN: Banged-up Lightning continue push for playoff spot against ‘Hawks

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    NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Chicago Blackhawks at 7:30 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

    Despite the crazy amount of injuries that the Lightning have suffered (Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Ryan Callahan, Cedric Paquette and Jason Garrison are all out), they find themselves within striking distance of a post-season berth.

    Coming into tonight’s tilt against the ‘Hawks, the Bolts are three points behind Boston for the final Wild Card spot in the East. The Lightning have a game in hand on the Bruins, but Boston has five more regulation/overtime wins.

    After dropping a 5-3 decision to Arizona on home ice last Tuesday, they rebounded by beating the B’s and Wings on the road on Thursday and Friday.

    One of the big reasons why the Lightning have been able to stay in the race, is because of  the way Nikita Kucherov has played this season.

    On Friday, with the Bolts trailing the Wings 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov helped set up Ondrej Palat‘s game-tying goal before adding the OT winner later on.

    The 23-year-old is up to 38 goals and 40 assists in 67 games. He’s accumulated 29 of those points in his last 16 games and he’s put together four multi-point efforts in a row.

    If the Bolts make it to the playoffs, is Kucherov the MVP?

    Don’t expect the Blackhawks to be in a particularly good mood coming into this game. Not only did they drop Saturday night’s game in Florida, but they were absolutely annihilated, 7-0.

    “There’s no reason we should be entirely satisfied at this point,” captain Jonathan Toews said after the loss, per the Chicago Tribune. “There’s always room to grow.

    “We can’t expect it’s going to be easy hockey (the) last seven games. If we continue to play like that and think we’re going to turn it on come playoff time, we’ve got another thing coming.”

    The Blackhawks had a bit of a rough week, as they lost 5-4 in OT to the Canucks on Tuesday before narrowly beating the Stars 3-2 in a shootout on Thursday. But overall, they’ve been on a pretty good run. In their last eight contests, they’ve gone 6-1-1, which is far from poor.

    PHT Morning Skate: Is it time for the Bruins to move on from Tuukka Rask?

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    Tuukka Rask has shown that he can be one of the top goalies in the NHL, but CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty thinks that his inability to deliver in big games is becoming a serious problem. Haggerty even suggests that the Bruins should consider shipping him out of town this summer. It’s an interesting thought. (CSN New England)

    –Nolan Patrick is expected to go first overall in next June’s entry draft, but his draft year has been anything but ordinary. He missed the first 34 games of the season with an undisclosed injury, which must be pretty frustrating. But Patrick has gone through a similar situation before. When he was a young teenager, Patrick broke his collarbone twice. He was able to shake the injuries off and turn himself into a top prospect. (Sportsnet)

    –Take a look at the top seven plays of the week in and around the NHL. If you’re fed up of seeing Sidney Crosby score ridiculous goals, do not watch this video. (NBC Sports)

    –The Flyers got six goals from six different players in their win over the Penguins last night. You can check out the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page. Philly is now six points back of Boston for the final Wild Card spot in the East.

    –Sabres forward Brian Gionta will be playing in his 1000th NHL game tonight. As you’d imagine, the 5-foot-7 forward didn’t have an easy path to the big show, but he was still able to carve out a great career for himself. “To be out there and part of his 1,000th game, it’s a proud moment for me,” teammate Josh Gorges said. “I know it’s a proud moment for him. We’ve talked about it before, and it’s an amazing accomplishment. … We’re all looking forward to it.” (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

    –Did you really think that changing the goalies’ pants was going to result in more goals scored? Well, let’s just say it hasn’t worked out that way. Before the change, teams were scoring 2.73 goals-per-game. Since the change, that number is slightly down at 2.70. (The Score)

    –Jets super fan Kiera Neal was diagnosed with cancer at the age of one, but Neal, now 10, is doing well and is cancer free. Her wish was to meet the Winnipeg Jets and her favorite player Dustin Byfuglien, and the people at Hometown Hockey made it happen:

    Ducks cement Pacific lead as Getzlaf continues his mammoth March

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    By the end of Sunday night, the Anaheim Ducks removed all doubt: they’re on top of the Pacific Division.

    Now, it’s not the sort of substantial lead that the sliding San Jose Sharks squandered; Anaheim merely leads the Sharks and Edmonton Oilers by two standings points after beating the New York Rangers 6-3.

    With everyone at 75 games played, it’s kind of nice to enjoy the clarity that comes with a clear lead (though the Sharks and Oilers will disagree):

    Pacific top four (all teams with 75 games played)

    1. Ducks – 93 points (38 ROW, 41 W)
    2. Sharks – 91 poitns (40 ROW, 42 W)
    3. Oilers – 91 points (37 ROW, 41 W)

    Flames – 88 points (38 ROW, 42 W)

    The Ducks are now on a four-game winning streak and managed an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 contests.

    With all due respect to Patrick Eaves‘ two goals, it’s Ryan Getzlaf who’s really playing outstanding hockey. He generated four assists in this one, giving him eight helpers in his past four games. He now has a whopping 20 points in March.

    A lot going on – fight included – between Corey Perry, Brendan Smith (Video)

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    If there’s one thing that’s undeniable from the clip going on, it’s that Corey Perry and Brendan Smith squeezed a lot of activity (carnage?) into a single shift.

    Early on in Sunday’s New York Rangers – Anaheim Ducks game, both player delivered hits that were at least borderline dangerous. After that, they traded punches in a pretty solid fight (especially since they seemed a little tired because, again, this was a fairly elaborate sequence).

    It’s way too messy a sequence to call neat, but there is something efficient about trading hits and then getting into a fight. That’s a mini-hockey feud in short order.

    If you want a pretty moment to counteract all that, check out the great puck movement on this 3-on-1 goal for the Rangers: