Emergency response in Cherepanov's death also questioned

Updated: October 14, 2008, 8:36 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

MOSCOW -- Alexei Cherepanov had heart problems and probably should not have been allowed to play in a game in which he collapsed and died, a regional investigator suggested Tuesday.

Yulia Zhukova said Cherepanov, who died Monday playing for Avangard Omsk in a Kontinental Hockey League game outside of Moscow, apparently had chronic ischemia -- a medical condition when not enough blood gets to the heart or other organs.

Alexei Cherepanov
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesAlexei Cherepanov, the top-ranked European player in the 2007 draft, was the Rangers' first-round pick that year.

"Checks will be conducted to clarify, in particular, why the sportsman with such an illness went onto the ice," Zhukova said.

Cherepanov's agent, however, said NHL tests showed him to be healthy.

A lawmaker suggested that the 19-year-old first-round draft pick for the New York Rangers may have died due to negligence on the part of paramedics.

Pavel Krasheninnikov, who sits on the Russian Hockey Federation's supervisory council and is a member of the State Duma, said there was no ambulance on duty at the Moscow region arena where Cherepanov was playing.

Krasheninnikov also asserted emergency workers took too long to respond and didn't have a defibrillator -- a medical machine that shocks the heart. It was unclear how much time it took paramedics to respond.

"There are elements of negligence here," Krasheninnikov said.

Vladimir Shalayev, the managing director for the newly formed Russian league, said a preliminary autopsy showed Cherepanov had a "hypertrophied heart."

"It has nothing to do with yesterday's game, there were absolutely no injuries," Shalayev said in televised comments. "He was not injured during this game."

When asked Monday about the availability of a defibrillator or whether medical equipment that might have helped Cherepanov was in working order, Omsk coach Wayne Fleming told ESPN.com he had been asked not to comment by team officials.

An earlier report on Cherepanov's death had suggested the ambulance usually stationed at the arena had left and had to be called back, delaying Cherepanov's transport to the hospital. That report could not be independently verified.

Cherepanov's agent, Jay Grossman, told ESPN.com he'd heard the same reports of problems with medical equipment and with ambulance availability but said he didn't know the details for certain.

Moscow regional investigator Yulia Zhukova said officials would look into why Cherepanov was playing with ischemia, and said officials could open a criminal investigation.

Former Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr played a shift with Cherepanov and was talking to him on the bench shortly after they left the ice, when Cherepanov suddenly collapsed, said a Rangers spokesman who talked to Jagr.

"He passed out on the bench and they couldn't revive him," Fleming told ESPN.com Monday night.

Cherepanov, the 17th overall pick in the 2007 entry draft, was sitting between Jagr and forward Pavel Rosa on the bench during a game against Vityav Chekov on the outskirts of Moscow when he suffered an apparent heart attack.

"He just laid back, passed out and went kind of white," Fleming said.

He said a team of doctors tried to revive Cherepanov but couldn't. Cherepanov was taken to a local hospital, where further attempts to revive him failed.

Fleming said he would meet with team management in the morning to determine the next course of action vis-à-vis whether there would be an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Cherepanov's death.

There was no collision that preceded the collapse, the spokesman said, but few other details were available. Cherepanov scored the first goal of the game and had eight in 15 contests this season, his third with Avangard Omsk.

"It was really kind of a surreal thing for the players," Grossman told The Associated Press. "He was skating in on a 2-on-1 with Jaromir and then they came back to the bench. Jaromir was talking to him and he told him he has to score on that play. The next thing you know, he collapsed.

"[Jagr] went with him into the dressing room area and they revived him for some time and then he didn't make it," Grossman said.

Amateur video taken at the game showed players and coaches gathered around the Avangard bench, then carrying a player who appeared to be Cherepanov.

Grossman said Monday that testing done on Cherepanov at the NHL combine before last year's draft didn't reveal any heart problems. He has been told that players in the KHL receive regular heart and blood tests, similar to those given in the NHL.

The Rangers announced Cherepanov's death shortly before they played at home against the New Jersey Devils on Monday night. New York coach Tom Renney said his club was not aware of any health issues with the young player.

"He's a Ranger and I think it'll have an impact on people," Renney said. "We're going to have to deal with it in our own personal way."

Cherepanov surprisingly slipped to the Rangers during the 2007 NHL draft and they grabbed him with the 17th pick. The talented forward dropped because of concerns about his signability and the potential difficulty in getting him to leave Russia.

"He was an exceptionally talented kid," Grossman said. "He played in the Russian Elite League, in the men's league, even before he was drafted which in and of itself is an achievement. He was a self-motivated kid that had an inner confidence about him."

The Rangers maintained a good relationship with Omsk and the club's general manager, even though there has been feuding between the NHL and Russia's KHL.

New York assistant coach Mike Pelino recently returned from a one-week trip to Russia where he watched Cherepanov play and then dined with him and Jagr.

"I was shocked when I heard. I thought it must be a misprint or something because he just had so much going for him," Pelino said. "He was someone who I was really excited about and thought, 'Wow, we did get something special here.'

"He had things to work on. We felt he had to become a little stronger still, he had to probably become a little bit more aware defensively. But as far as raw talent went and the ability to score, he was great."

In the NHL, each team undergoes an annual audit to ensure it is in compliance with a range of emergency medical procedures that must be in place in every building, deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN.com Monday.

Among the requirements are that medical staff on hand must be certified in advanced trauma life support. There is also a requirement for ambulance service on site.

The ability of teams to respond to medical emergencies was brought into sharp focus in November 2005 when Detroit Red Wings defenseman Jiri Fischer went into cardiac arrest on the bench in Detroit.

The NHL also reviewed its procedures after Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik suffered a potentially deadly neck injury during a game in Buffalo in February when he was cut by a teammate's skate.

ESPN.com hockey writer Scott Burnside and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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