Kid didn't know the word 'quit'

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

The shocking news concerning the death of promising New York Rangers prospect Alexei Cherepanov sparked a vivid memory of the kid from 16 months ago.

In the spring of 2007, the gifted forward attended the NHL's prospect camp at a Toronto airport hotel, where top-ranked players were prodded, poked and put through a series of gruelling tests in front of a bevy of scouts who were preparing for the entry draft.

While many eyes were fixed on the London Knights' Patrick Kane, the diminutive Buffalo native who would eventually be picked first overall by the Chicago Blackhawks, Cherepanov also drew a lot of interest as he made his way from work station to work station.

One of the most grinding workouts featured players ferociously pedalling a stationary bike, all the while being pushed by a nearby official who would keep yelling "harder, faster, keep going!"

In this instance, Cherepanov, beads of sweat trickling down his face, was obviously wearing down. But he kept churning away, refusing to back off.

Finally his body gave out. He could take no more. He ended up vomiting in a nearby bag.

"Look at that. This kid just refuses to give up no matter how much a strain it is on him," a scout said at the time. "He's going to be a good one."

Cherepanov would be selected 17th overall by the Rangers, dropping down in the draft partially because teams were concerned about the lack of an agreement with the Russian federation.

As the hockey world continues to mourn the loss of a teenager who died far too early, that is the way some of us on hand that day will remember him: As a determined teenager who did not know the word "quit."

* Word of Cherepanov's passing certainly must have hit home with former Detroit Red Wing defenceman Jiri Fischer, who spent yesterday with the Wings at the White House being honoured for the team's 2008 Stanley Cup title.

Fischer collapsed from heart complications during a game at the Joe Louis Arena in November 2005. If not for the quick medical attention he received that night, who knows what might have happened?

With reports out of Russia suggesting the sluggish reaction of medical officials and the lack of appropriate equipment may have played a role in Cherepanov's passing, questions arise about the conditions in the Russian-based KHL, where he was playing for Avangard Omsk.

Meanwhile, Paul Kelly, the head of the NHLPA, is on record as saying he would tell any player who approached him that the medical facilities in the NHL are second to none.

To that end, Bob Hunter, executive vice president of Maple Leaf Sport & Entertainment Ltd, said yesterday there are five defibrillators (AED) sprinkled around the Air Canada Centre for the treatment of fans. As for players, Hunter said there is a medical team with a defibrillator on hand at all times with the sole purpose of attending to any on-ice personnel.

* All this talk about players with heart problems induced the following question:

Whatever happened to Swiss forward Luca Cereda, selected 24th overall by the Maple Leafs in the 1999 NHL entry draft?

Truth be told, Cereda's health issues caused him to retire in 2007, ending a four-season run in the Swiss league that featured stints with both Bern and Ambri-Piotta. Over that span, he never managed to score more than six goals in a season.

The Leafs had high hopes for Cereda when he arrived at training camp in September 2000.

SURGERY

Imagine his shock when tests conducted during team medicals revealed Cereda had a heart murmur. Results indicated one of the three valves in Cereda's aorta was not pumping properly, forcing him to undergo heart surgery.

Cereda came back to North America to play for the St. John's Maple Leafs, where he scored just 12 times in two-plus seasons. Then, after a four-year run in Switzerland, he finally called it a career.

Cereda, at least, received a second chance -- something Cherepanov never got.


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