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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    Update: Evgeni Malkin is still a bad man

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    Sometimes an angry Evgeni Malkin means a stray power play or two for his opponents, but it’s usually not the best idea to make him angry.

    Giving a player that big and talented extra motivation just seems like a bad idea, right?

    Joel Ward experienced that phenomenon on Tuesday, as Malkin responded to a blow from Ward with the goal you can see above.

    This continues a red-hot streak for Malkin. Tonight’s goal and assist (and counting?) stretches his scoring streak to four games, each with at least one goal.

    Malkin came into Tuesday with 10 points in his last six games as well, so … yeah, no. 71 is feeling it right now.

    Of course: Ryan Suter wins it for Wild vs. ‘Hawks after those wild quotes

    NBCSN screen

    You know what they say: “What a difference a game makes.”

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    Ryan Suter admitted he went too far with comments during tough times, yet there he was on Tuesday night, grinning ear-to-ear after scoring the 2-1 goal that ended up being the game-winner.

    Heck, people were even joking about things. The healing powers of winning, right?

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    Jeremy Roenick labels this 2-1 win as a “team win” for Minnesota, and it showed on that 2-1 goal, as the Wild showed off some picture-perfect passing and a willingness to crash the net for rebounds.

    Let’s face it, though; Devan Dubnyk deserves plenty of credit, too.

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    Hey look: Flyers reel off three straight wins for first time in 2015-16

    Sean Couturier
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    When you’re talking about bright sides, most people believe that they boil down to the light at the end of the tunnel for the Philadelphia Flyers.

    Sometimes it’s nice to enjoy a little success in the present while waiting for that bright future, though.

    The Flyers are providing at least a burst of sunshine lately, as Tuesday’s 4-2 win against the Ottawa Senators gives them … (drum roll) their first three-game winning streak of this season.

    Joy abounded.

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    If that fails … hey, the future may require shades.

    This own-goal captures the start of Dougie Hamilton’s Flames career

    Dougie Hamilton
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    Here’s an understatement: things haven’t gone very well for Dougie Hamilton early in his first season with the Calgary Flames.

    (It must feel like the opposite of Tyler Seguin in Dallas for Boston Bruins fans, but feel free to disagree in the comments.)

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    Update: Did Hamilton picture all the negative headlines and harness that energy for a greater good? He scored the game-tying goal as Calgary upset Dallas 4-3 via a shootout.