When I heard that Alexander Cherepanov had died, it took me back to November 7, 1995.
At the time, I was going to Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario and returned home from class that day to find out that Cory Stoyko, a friend with whom I had played midget and junior hockey, had died after collapsing while playing a men's rec league hockey game the night before.
Cory and I were friends. Though we hadn't seen each other as much since university started, I had run into "Stoyks" (okay, we were hockey players, with unoriginal nicknames) at a local sports bar less than a week before he died and it was so reassuring to know that we were still cool with each other.
Even as it seems every year we hear about young athletes dying on the rink or on the football field, it never makes the sudden loss of potential any less tragic.
So, when the news hit about 19-year-old Cherepanov collapsing on the bench, not unlike my friend at the age of 23, I was taken aback a little more than usual.
While the numbers guy in me might normally like to analyze how much the loss of Cherepanov hurts the New York Rangers in the future, the human being in me knows that Cherepanov's death is going to affect the people in his life so much more for so many years to come.
I first remember Cherepanov at the 2007 World Junior Hockey Championships, and thinking that he was just a tremendous hockey player -- one of the next Russian scoring superstars, it seemed. Watching him in that tourney, I remember wondering whether he could be the next Alexander Frolov (or would he be the next Maxim Balmochnykh, both of whom starred for the Russians at the WJC).
As is the case with many teen hockey stars, though, it wasn't easy for Cherepanov to live up to the expectations that he had created during that tournament, or during the 2006-2007 season when he was the highest-scoring rookie in Russian Super League history, fueling hopes that he would be another sniper like Ilya Kovalchuk.
Though his scoring totals had dropped ever-so-slightly in his second RSL season, Cherepanov was off to a terrific start in this, his third year.
Now, we'll never know what kind of player Alexei Cherepanov would have been in the National Hockey League and the New York Rangers undoubtedly will be affected by the loss of a top prospect, but those that knew him best will forever feel a void in their lives, something that goes far beyond the rink.
To them, and anyone who has had to go through similar experiences, I can only offer my heartfelt sympathy.
Scott Cullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org