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McKenzie: Tragic year continues with Cherepanov's passing

Bob McKenzie
10/13/2008 10:20:39 PM
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As fate would have it, Alexei Cherepanov scored a goal Monday in what would be the final hockey game of his young life. And maybe there is something fitting about that, because if there were anything the gifted 19-year-old Russian loved, it was scoring goals.

In fact, as a 17-year-old rookie in the Russian Super League, Cherepanov did what no other Russian rookie - not one named Pavel Bure or Ilya Kovalchuk or Alex Ovechkin or Evgeni Malkin - had done when he scored 18 goals against the men of the RSL that season.

Small wonder, then, that for a good part of the 2006-07 season, the dynamic Cherepanov was touted as one of the premier prospects for the 2007 NHL Draft, worthy of mention in the same breath as Patrick Kane or James van Riemsdyk or Kyle Turris.

We all know, though, what happened after that.

Kane, van Riemsdyk and Turris went one-two-three. And Cherepanov, largely because of the "Russian" factor and concerns of when or if he would leave Russia and how much it might cost an NHL team, well, the consensus top-five talent went on a free-fall to No. 17 and the New York Rangers.

For many, Cherepanov became something of a forgotten man after that, even though he still managed 15 goals the next season.

There was talk he may never leave Russia for the Rangers, but his agent Jay Grossman said Cherepanov's plan was always to honor his contract with Omsk, which was set to expire at the end of this season, and then fulfill his dream of playing in the NHL for the Rangers.

The goal he scored Monday, the last goal he would ever score, was his eighth in 15 games and he was, by all accounts, playing great hockey.

There will no doubt be much talk about how and why Cherepanov died and whether anything could have been done to prevent it.

But today, for now, the focus is solely on a tragic loss of life in a year where it's happened all too frequently - Luc Bourdon, Mickey Renaud and now Alexei Cherepanov.

Bob McKenzie

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