Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bertuzzday: The Rangers immensely foolish reaction to Cherepanov's death

On a day like this, Americans think of those who gave their lives to protect and embolden this country. Hockey historian Joe Pelletier features two great pieces regarding hockey and the war on his informative Greatest Hockey Legends blog (click here for stories on such luminaries as Conn Smythe and an intriguing read about "The Hockey Jersey that saved a Prisoner of War").

Normally, Bertuzzdays are meant to be a time capsule into the silliest (and sometimes most shameful) moments in NHL history, but today made me think of Alex Cherepanov enough that it seemed like an appropriate subject. On some level, every war leads to what seems like pointless, unnecessary deaths ... but it doesn't get much worse than a person dying while playing a sport.

Over the last few years, there have been some close calls. Richard Zednik suffered a freak injury when his throat was slashed by Olli Jokinen's skate. It was a near-miracle that Zednik survived. The medical staffer actually choked Zednik in order to keep him from bleeding to death.

Another chilling near-death experience came when Jiri Fischer nearly died during a Detroit Red Wings game. Much like Cherepanov, no one was aware of Fischer's heart problems. His teammates and spectators watched helplessly as their friend was close to death, but in this case his team was prepared enough to save his life.

For Fischer, it was a near-death experience that sent him on the road trying to convince hockey teams to carry a defibrillator in order to be prepared for such emergencies. Details on Cherepanov's death are shady, but the general consensus seems to be that the ambulance needed to save his life came a tragic 15-20 minutes too late. It's not a sure thing the young man would have survived anyway, but it's truly awful to wonder if the case will justify the negligence charges brought up by Russian lawyers.

Time will tell whether or not Cherepanov's death could have been prevented.

One thing, though, that's not up to debate is how poorly the New York Rangers handled this delicate situation last week. As Mirtle pointed out in his new blog, while justifiably asking for a compensatory pick Rangers assistant GM Cam Hope broke every commandment in the tact Bible with this jaw-droppingly bad statement (I put the particularly inflammatory stuff in bold):

"We understand that this is a sensitive issue, but with all due respect to Alexei's family and his memory, he is technically eligible to be drafted again next year.

We are not attempting to capitalize on a tragedy, but there would be no question regarding the Rangers' right to a compensatory pick if Cherepanov had been revived and survived the incident and were on life support."

To paraphrase Kyle's mom: "What - what - WHHHAAAAT?"

In a sick way, that quote reminded me of the scene in Talladega Nights where Ricky Bobby prefaces broad, sweeping insults by first saying "With all due respect."

Sports fans and Americans in general have a reputation for blowing sports out of proportion. But even the most hardcore sports fanatics understand that there is a line you don't cross.

It was one thing for the Rangers to meekly probe the NHL regarding the situation, but to use such crass language leaves Glenn Sather and Co. with plenty of egg to clean off their faces.

Really, it's comments like those that justify insufferable inventions like sensitivity training. Cherepanov's death was unnecessary but, even if Omsk/KHL dropped the ball, what they did was still an accident during a nightmare situation. It's not every day that a college aged, phenomenal athlete goes into cardiac arrest. Even if someone was at fault it was still a lack of preparedness or luck, not an act of premeditated stupidity. His death, along with the equally awful death of Luc Bourdon, make 2008 a tragic year for hockey.

But while you can chalk Cherepanov's death up to an accident in at least some train of thought, how can you spin the Rangers' graceless gesture? Hopefully the NHL punishes them by not giving them a damn thing.

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