Fleming will be back on Avangard bench

Updated: January 11, 2009, 12:31 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

Wayne Fleming, it turns out, was not fired but rather benched.

Reports had surfaced Friday that the veteran NHL coach had been fired by Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia, but Fleming said Saturday he'll be back behind the bench for the next game on Wednesday.

"I'm still working," Fleming told ESPN.com from Russia. "I met with the GM this morning. He said, 'We want you to stay. You're not fired.'"

The KHL said it had no comment and "considers it a team issue."

Once again proving that there's never a dull moment in the new KHL, Fleming was told to go home during last Thursday's game against Vityaz and that sparked rumors that he had been fired.

"The GM had come in after the second period on Thursday night and said, 'You're not working anymore for the rest of this game. The assistant coach will take over. But we're not firing you,'" Fleming said. "I said, 'Well, that's a new situation for me.' So I quietly and calmly walked out and drove home."

Then the Russian newspaper Gazeta reported on Friday that Fleming's resignation would be formally announced after the Avangard board of trustees met in the coming days.

But on Saturday the matter was cleared up and Fleming was told he was back as head coach.

"I said to the players, 'It's the first time I've ever seen the coach get benched,'" said Fleming. "I met with the captains and I asked them if they wanted a new coach and they said no, they wanted me to stay."

Fleming is working under a one-year deal with Omsk. He has an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames over the past few seasons. He was an assistant coach for Team Canada at the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics and 2004 World Cup of Hockey.

His team has been marred by controversy all season. In October, star rookie and top New York Rangers prospect Alexei Cherepanov collapsed while on the bench and died a short time later.

In December, investigators said Cherepanov took performance-enhancing drugs for several months before he died during the game. They added that during his last year the 19-year-old player suffered from myocarditis, a condition where not enough blood gets to the heart, and should not have been playing professional hockey.

The KHL disciplinary committee announced in a statement that it had requested league president Alexander Medvedev ask for the suspension of Avangard's general manager Anatoly Bardin and team president Konstantin Potapov until the investigation into Cherepanov's death was complete. The team's doctors were also removed from their duties.

Also in December, the team terminated the contract of former NHL goaltender John Grahame. The KHL cited alcohol problems for Grahame's release.

Grahame plans to return to Moscow on Jan. 14 to appeal.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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