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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    Full Schedule: 2018 Stanley Cup Final

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    The 2018 Stanley Cup Final matchup is set and it will be the Washington Capitals against the Vegas Golden Knights.

    So many different storylines to consider. George McPhee vs. his old team. Alex Ovechkin going for his first ever Cup ring. Former Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury against the Capitals. And the obvious one with the Golden Knights and their inaugural season success. It should be a fun one.

    Here’s the full schedule:

    Game 1 Monday, May 28 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
    Game 2 Wednesday, May 30 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
    Game 3 Saturday, June 2 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
    Game 4 Monday, June 4 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
    Game 5* Thursday, June 7 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
    Game 6* Sunday, June 10 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
    Game 7* Wednesday, June 13 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
    * = If necessary

    MORE:
    NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    Ovechkin, Capitals headed to Stanley Cup Final after Game 7 triumph

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    Alex Ovechkin will get his chance.

    The Great 8 will contest for the Stanley Cup after his Washington Capitals defeated their past demons and the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday.

    Yes, the Capitals — a team that had to overcome a horrific playoff record against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round and then had to deal the disappointment of beginning the Conference Final with wins in Games 1 and 2 only to drop three straight to trail 3-2.

    They took care of business in Game 6, and that train kept chugging along into Game 7.

    Ovi put his stamp on Game 7 just 62 seconds in as he wired a one-timer past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

    The first period was a wild affair, filled with scuffles, a fight and stolen jersey.

    And then Andre Burakovsky arrived.

    Burakovsky missed the first 12 games of the plays because of injury and then followed that up with seven games without a point.

    He revealed earlier in the series that he lays a mental beating on himself too often. So Game 7 must have felt pretty good.

    Burakovsky scored on two separate breakaways in the second period.

    The first came off a brutal giveaway from Dan Girardi in his own zone. His second came after the Lightning got caught on a bad change.

    Tampa looked like a shell of their former selves. They dusted themselves off after dropping the first two at home, but simply stopped scoring after the 33-second mark in the second period of Game 5.

    [PHT’s Three Stars]

    Braden Holtby showed up at precisely the right moment in the series, posting consecutive shutouts to close out the series.

    Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, meanwhile, were far from brilliant. No one over the last seven periods and change was on the Lightning.

    The Lightning went 159:33 without scoring. Ouch.

    You can’t win games when you don’t score, something the Lightning will have all summer to ponder. They led the NHL with 296 goals this season, all of which means sweet nothing now.

    And now the attention turns to one of the more intriguing Cup Finals in a long time.

    One of the greatest players of all-time with a chance to win his first Cup silence his critics after years of disappointment against the best story in sports, period.

    Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final begins Monday, May 28 at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

    In the words of Bart Scott, “Can’t wait.”

    MORE:
    NHL Playoffs 2018: Stanley Cup Final TV Schedule

    Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

    PHT’s Three Stars: Burakovsky’s goals push Capitals into Stanley Cup Final

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    1st Star: Andre Burakovsky, Washington Capitals

    After being benched earlier in the series, Burakovsky responded in a big way in Game 7 scoring twice as the Capitals moved on to the Stanley Cup Final with a 4-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    2nd Star: Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

    Holtby finished the Eastern Conference Final in a strong way, posting a second straight shutout while making 29 saves. The Capitals netminder has not allowed a goal since 33 seconds into the second period of Game 5.

    3rd Star: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

    The captain only needed 62 seconds to open the scoring and quiet the AMALIE Arena crowd.

    [Ovechkin, Capitals headed to Stanley Cup Final after Game 7 triumph]

    Highlight of the Night:

    A wild first period included a tilt between Tom Wilson and Braydon Coburn:

    Factoid of the Night:

    Stanley Cup Final schedule
    Game 1 Monday, May 28 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
    Game 2 Wednesday, May 30 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
    Game 3 Saturday, June 2 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
    Game 4 Monday, June 4 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
    Game 5* Thursday, June 7 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
    Game 6* Sunday, June 10 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
    Game 7* Wednesday, June 13 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
    * = If necessary

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    Brooks Orpik leaves Game 7 after Paquette’s hit from behind

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    While the Washington Capitals built up a lead in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday, they lost two players before the end of the second period.

    First, Devante Smith-Pelly blocked a Ryan McDonagh shot with the back of his neck in the first period. After returning to the game, he would leave the Capitals’ bench late in the second period.

    Joining him would be Orpik, who took a big hit from behind along the boards from Lightning forward Cedric Paquette. As Orpik was being tended to, the officials got together and determined that there would no penalty on the play, which is an odd decision.

    As Orpik goes to get the puck in the corner, he does peek over his shoulder and sees Paquette a ways away, but he doesn’t change his body position as Paquette drills him. He’s probably not expecting to get hit even with the Lightning forward in the area. That would have easily been at least a major, maybe even a game misconduct (Remember Steve Bernier?).

    The Capitals would respond to the hit two minutes later. On the scoreboard. Andre Burakovsky potted his second goal of the night to give Washington a commanding 3-0 lead heading into the third period.

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.