KHL ‘scary’ proposition for some Pens
By Josh Yohe
Published: Sunday, September 23, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Updated: Sunday, September 23, 2012
Erasing the memory of a plane crash that killed people in your profession isn't easy.
Forgetting about a teenager dying without proper medical attention doesn't feel natural, either.
Those events — the 2011 plane crash that wiped out the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl roster and the '08 death of Rangers prospect Alexei Cherepanov — have left the KHL with a black eye that, in some Penguins' minds, is permanent.
“I'd probably go play somewhere if the lockout takes a while,” Penguins right wing Tyler Kennedy said. “But probably not the KHL. I don't think I could do it. Pretty scary.”
Kennedy's assessment isn't completely shared among his teammates, but many Penguins have acknowledged trepidation regarding what some consider the world's second-best hockey league.
The word “scary” was common among the Penguins when speaking about the league in which Evgeni Malkin, last season's NHL MVP and scoring champion, already has decided to participate.
“Personally,” left wing Eric Tangradi said, “I would say no if I was offered a deal. If it was on the table and there was a good offer made, I still don't think I'd be real comfortable. It's scary.”
A plane crash last September carrying Lokomotiv Yaroslavl killed 44 people on board and sent shockwaves through the hockey community. The KHL's reputation already had been battered following Cherepanov's death. A Rangers first-round draft pick, Cherepanov collapsed during a conversation with teammate Jaromir Jagr in a 2008 KHL game.
He died that evening, and news quickly broke that a physician was not on hand at the game.
“I think a lot of it depends on which team you're playing for over there,” said Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland, who has said he will look for work if the NHL lockout lasts into October. “Some teams, I think you're probably fine. It's a matter of finding the right one.”
Not all Penguins are against the idea of playing in the KHL. In fact, the biggest name of them all simply shrugged his shoulders when asked if the league is dangerous.
“We all know about what happened,” center Sidney Crosby said. “It was a tragic accident. But there are still a lot of guys playing over there. I haven't really discussed it much yet, but I don't have any concerns about that.”
Malkin's agent, J.P. Barry, doesn't shy away from the concerns.
“I don't think it's any secret that travel in Russia is a concern, that players have the (Lokomotiv) tragedy on their mind,” Barry said. “It's not the same as NHL travel, but I don't know if Russian planes would keep players away more than anything else would or wouldn't.”
Former Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar voiced confidence in Russian travel.
“It has actually been better since Lokomotiv,” he said. “They have started improving the planes. It's something the government has taken seriously.”
New Penguins winger Tanner Glass also has heard positive reports about the KHL.
“Everything I've heard is that everything over there has gotten a ton better,” said Glass, who said he is interested in playing in the KHL.
The Penguins understand why Malkin jumped at the opportunity to play there.
“Obviously it's a lot more comfortable for a Russian guy to play there than if you're from the U.S. or Canada,” Tangradi said. “There are some things that concern you. Also, it's just a different culture.”
Just because Malkin is there, however, doesn't mean his Penguins teammates will be in a hurry to join him.
“I hope we do see him soon,” Kennedy said. “I just hope it's here.”
Note: Ex-Penguins forward Max Talbot confirmed late Saturday that former teammates Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury and Colby Armstrong plan to play in a tournament with other NHL players outside of Montreal. Talbot is one of the players organizing the “friendly” games. None of those players is expected to dress for the first game Friday.
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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