MOSCOW -- Alexei Cherepanov, the 19-year-old rising star and New York Rangers draft pick who died after collapsing during a game, was playing illegally for his Russian club, a top military officer said Friday.
Cherepanov's death Oct. 13 prompted wide outrage among lawmakers and Russian sports officials, with many calling for a major investigation into the cause of the heart problems that led to his death at a Continental Hockey League game. He was a first-round draft pick for the Rangers.
Col. Vladimir Karpenko, a spokesman for the commander of Russia's Railway Troops, said in comments on state-run First Channel that Cherepanov should have been serving his mandatory military service with his unit, not playing hockey with the Omsk club Avangard.
Karpenko said 19 other conscripts from the Railway Troops also were illegally playing for Avangard.
The commander of the Railway Troops' Omsk unit, however, denied any wrongdoing.
"It's been a common practice for the sport club Avangard for many years to send its young boys to serve in the Railway Troops. Naturally, they never stayed in the barracks, they were always training at the sport facilities to get ready for competitions," Col. Oleg Alborov told NTV.
"Such practice of drafting has been going on for years," he said Friday.
Moscow regional investigators said Cherepanov apparently had chronic ischemia -- a medical condition that means not enough blood gets to the heart or other organs. They have raised questions as to why the condition went undetected.
The Russia-based Continental Hockey League last week announced new regulations to safeguard players' health, and some lawmakers have accused emergency workers of taking too long to respond to the call and not having a defibrillator.
League officials could not be reached for comment late Friday.
The daily Kommersant reported this week that preliminary blood and other tests on Cherepanov showed no signs of steroids nor other medical stimulants or supplements. The paper said results of an autopsy would be released sometime next month.