Coach lends a shoulder

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

They were the offensive heart-and-soul of Russia's gold medal-winning world under-18 team in Finland last year.

The New York Rangers drafted Alexei Cherepanov. The Dallas Stars scooped up Sergei Korostin.

London Knights GM Mark Hunter saw them together at their best.

"They were dynamic," he said. "I don't want to say they were the whole Russian team because they had some good players but they scored a lot of goals. Dynamic."

Korostin is with the Knights now. He played for the North American Hockey League's Texas Tornado last season but now, he's in a new league in a strange city in a different country.

His parents and girlfriend haven't been here yet.

Then he found out this week his friend and former teammate Cherepanov had passed away while playing at home in Russia.

How does he forge ahead?

How does he not feel alone?

Who does he turn to at a time like this?

In most situations, it's London's second-year assistant coach Pat Curcio.

He makes sure the players go to school, get to bed on time and eat healthy.

He scouts, organizes practice, video sessions and tries to lighten the mood with a friendly smile.

He's essentially the players' liaison to the world -- the guy they can feel comfortable with about any topic in their life.

"I talked with Sergei about this -- we wanted to know how he's feeling and what he's thinking," Curcio said.

"He played with Alexei, he knew him and they came from the same part of Russia. It's devastating news. It's a reminder how fragile life is.

"When something like that happens, everyone has the same questions and goes through the same feelings. There's fear immediately after it and that's normal."

But no Knight need feel alone. They walk together and help each other.

Curcio is friends with Windsor associate coach Bob Jones from their playing days. The Spitfires, now London's biggest rival, went through a terrible time when they lost captain Mickey Renaud to heart complications last year.

"I went to Mickey's funeral and I know from talking to Bobby during that time and now, what it was like going through that," Curcio said. "You lose a friend, a teammate, at 19 years old and it's never an easy thing.

"You need someone to talk to, someone who will listen to help you get through it."

The players have Curcio. But Korostin also has another Russian resource at his disposal -- Akim Aliu.

"We've tried to get Sergei together with Akim as much as possible," Curcio said. "Akim can speak Russian because his mother's from there so that's a plus for us. That's something Sergei (Kostitsyn, now a Montreal Canadiens standout) never had when he was here. We're trying to help Sergei (Korostin) feel at home. His parents are going to visit during vacation. His girlfriend is planning on coming here."

Korostin didn't want to speak publicly about his situation. He is expected to play this weekend against Owen Sound and Kitchener. He's seen some power-play time and flashes of offensive flair so far, but is not yet a producing at a point-per-game pace.

"It takes time," Curcio said. "There's more there. It takes a while to adjust to a new league. He's going to be fine."

Aliu looked strong skating in practice yesterday, but the Knights aren't going to rush him back from a sore groin he incurred at Chicago's camp.

"We're not going to win the Memorial Cup today," Curcio said, "so we're not going to risk anything by playing him too early."


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