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Players stunned by Cherepanov's death

by Brian Compton

As it turns out, Alexei Cherepanov had one goal left in him before he was taken away from us much too soon.

A highly-touted prospect who was grabbed -- some say stolen -- by the New York Rangers at No. 17 in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Cherepanov died Monday in the third period of a KHL game in Russia.

Cherepanov's death sent shockwaves through the Nassau Coliseum on Monday afternoon, where the New York Islanders suffered a 7-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. For Isles' top pick Josh Bailey -- who went ninth overall last June -- it hit close to home. Bailey lost Windsor Spitfires teammate/captain Mickey Renaud on Feb. 18 of this year, when he collapsed at his home and died shortly thereafter. Just like Cherepanov, Renaud -- who succumbed to a heart condition -- was 19 years old.

"That's horrible. I just walked in (the locker room), and (Sean) Bergenheim asked me if I played against him," said Bailey, who is out 2-4 weeks with an undisclosed injury. "That's awful. I actually went through something like that last year. I really feel for the family. It's obviously a pretty tragic thing."

Not to mention scary. Bailey, who celebrated his 19th birthday on Oct. 2, admits it's difficult not to think about his own mortality when he sees young men his age passing away around him.

"It's scary," Bailey told "Any time a young person dies, or anyone dies, it's horrible. A 19-year-old, you figure he's pretty healthy playing hockey and in shape. When you go to sleep at night, you're really thinking about that it could happen to any one of us. You count your blessings."

""That's unbelievable. I'm kind of in shock right now. I remember a few years ago what happened to (Jiri) Fischer in Detroit. It's just sad to see. There's a few of them now. I don't really know what to say." 
-- Sabres forward Jason Pominville

Bailey wasn't the only one stunned on Long Island on Monday afternoon. When informed about Cherepanov's death, Sabres forward Jason Pominville's jaw nearly dropped to the floor.

"That's unbelievable. I'm kind of in shock right now," said Pominville, who will turn 26 on Nov. 30. "I remember a few years ago what happened to (Jiri) Fischer in Detroit. It's just sad to see. There's a few of them now. I don't really know what to say."

Considering he participated in Monday's game and scored a goal for Avangard Omsk in their game against Vityav Chekhov, Cherepanov's medical condition must have gone undetected. Omsk coach Wayne Fleming said Cherepanov collapsed on the bench and that medical authorities tried to get his heart beating again after it had stopped.

"They tried to get his heart started again, but they couldn't," Fleming said.

Pominville admitted that while physicals can sometimes be a nuisance, they are vital to a player's health.

"Physicals are definitely important; that's why we have them," Pominville said. "You have to be cleared to play. You look at Jason Blake in Toronto last year. If he doesn't do his physical, he may have never found out about his Leukemia. They're extremely important. There's a number of tests you've got to pass, and they're so important. Life is a fragile thing, and you've got to put the game aside."

Cherepanov helped lead Russia to a bronze medal at the World Junior Championships this year, as he tallied three goals and three assists with a plus-3 rating in six games. NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly issued a statement regarding Cherepanov's untimely passing.

"The NHLPA is saddened to learn of the passing of Alexei Cherepanov," Kelly said. "Alexei was a tremendous young man and a highly-skilled hockey player whose promising career had no limits. His unexpected passing at such a young age is a great loss for the entire hockey community. The NHLPA extends our condolences to Alexei's family, friends and teammates during this extremely difficult time."

Contact Brian Compton at:

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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