Heart attack at 22, poisoning, fall from a balcony, drowning, disappearance, death in full sleep, train accident, death of hypothermia: several Russian hockey players, often very young, lost their lives in incomprehensible circumstances in the last few years.
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Kent Hughes may have to decide whether to pick fifth-overall gem Matvei Michkov in the next draft. If his contract in Russia, which still has three years to go, may dampen the desire to choose him, the mysterious death of his father, found in a pond, and the many other tragic deaths involving Russian athletes raise several questions.
By searching through several media, including a good part in Russia, The newspaper traced 30 hard-to-understand deaths that have occurred since a native player first stepped foot in the NHL.
Everything indicates that the list is longer. But for several players, the information was non-existent or very poorly documented. We therefore only noted cases that could be confirmed with several sources.
Professor of history at UQAM, Jean Lévesque specializes in international sport and Russian politics. He says he is “surprised” by the number of nebulous deaths we have compiled.
“Just hockey players? […] It’s suspicious, it’s sure that it’s an overrepresentation compared to other sports, ”he commented in a telephone interview.
Our research also shows that the official version of the cause of death is often heart attack. Once again, this is surprising, according to Professor Lévesque, who recalls that these are “high-level athletes”.
Death from a heart attack can happen, but it’s pretty rare in other sports, or indeed anywhere except Russian hockey. Mr. Lévesque recalls that of the Danish soccer player Christian Eriksen in 2021. But the latter survived and it was shown that he was suffering from a rare anomaly in the heart.
Also, several heart attack deaths raise questions about the possible use of doping products, while Russia has been hit with numerous sanctions over the years for systemic doping.
The Russian mafia
In the 1990s, the Russian mafia also infiltrated hockey. This phenomenon has been linked to the disappearance of several players, managers and team employees in Russia. “Athletes were extorted by the mafia, so if you refused to pay your odds…”, continues the history professor.
In 1996, the administrative director of the Red Army hockey team was assassinated.
In the same year, the general director of Spartak from Yekaterinburg was shot dead.
With the KHL today, “maybe the mafia is trying to go after players individually,” adds Mr. Lévesque. But it’s not like it was in the 1990s, he says.
The KHL, “it’s controlled by the state and the oligarchs who, in general, are able to protect themselves from the mafia”.
But all of these deaths shed a different light on the situation of Russian players in North America and why some steer clear of the media when it comes to commenting on the situation in their native country.
Beyond the criminal suspicions of several of these deaths, it is also the safety and supervision of the players that raise a lot of questions.
Abakar Kazbekov (2004-2022) – 18 ans
The London Knights forward died days before Christmas after falling from a building. He was the league’s first-ever overall pick in 2021. London police confirmed no criminal elements were suspected. The thesis of suicide has been put forward by some media.
Valery Karpov (1971-2014) – 43 ans
He played for four years in the Anaheim Ducks organization, so 76 games in the NHL. He then evolved in Russia from 1997 to 2005. He was killed in his house during a fight, during which he tumbled down the stairs.
Igor Misko (1986-2010) – 24 ans
The striker was playing in the KHL with Saint Petersburg when he suffered a heart attack during the summer.
Denis Martyniuk (1979-2008) – 29 ans
Drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in 1997, he also played with Spartak Moscow. While playing with Kristall of Saratov in Russia, he allegedly collapsed while exiting an elevator. Cause of death according to the authorities: heart attack.
Igor Evdokimov (1962-2008) – 46 ans
After a long career with Russian team Leningrad, he suffered a heart attack.
Aleksei Cherepanov (1989-2008) – 19 ans
Rangers’ first-round pick in 2007, he collapsed on the bench for his KHL team, Omsk’s Avangard, the following year. Cause of death: heart failure. An investigation led to the suspension of five Russian team employees and doctors.
Igor Antosik (1987-2008) – 21 ans
After having represented Russia at the World Under-18 Championship, he notably evolved with Dynamo Moscow. While training with his Russian team in 2008, he lost consciousness and never woke up. He died of a ruptured aneurysm.
Maxim Popov (1983-2007) – 24 ans
He played for St. Petersburg in the top Russian league. The circumstances of his death are not available.
Sergei Zholtok (1972-2004) – 32 ans
The excellent Latvian player who played with the Canadiens played 588 games in the NHL. During the lockout, he was in line with Riga when he lost his life in the middle of a match, in Belarus. The cause of his death: heart failure.
Anatoly Ustyugov (1977-2004) – 27 ans
The Red Wings’ fourth-round pick only played in Russia from 1994 to 2004, when his life came to a tragic end. According to available information, he was murdered during a robbery.
Oleg Vevcherenko (1968-2003) – 35 ans
The defender played in Russia from 1984 to 2003; he slipped from his balcony and fell nine stories.
Aleksei Traseukh (1968-2003) – 35 ans
The striker played for nearly fifteen years in the big Russian league. While he was assistant coach of Yaroslav de Torpedo, he was found dead at his home. Authorities said he ended those days with a gun, a version that was disputed by those close to him.
Aleksandr Krevsun (1980–2002) – 22 ans
Drafted by the Nashville Predators in 1999, he played a year in North America after his selection. But during his summer training the following year, he collapsed and never got up. The cause of his death, according to the information made public: cerebral hemorrhage.
Sergei Zemchenok (1976-2001) – 25 ans
The one who represented Russia at the World Junior Championship as a goalkeeper died suddenly at the start of his career with the Mettalurg of Magnitogorsk. He was shot in the head on his way home.
Alexey Stepanov (1972-2000) – 28 ans
He also died suddenly in his ninth year in Russia’s top league. According to information made public, he went fishing and his body was found at the bottom of a lake.
Valentin Markov (1947-1999) – 52 ans
A solid defender, he played for 16 years in the best Russian league, including 14 years in Moscow. He played for the Soviet Union team, and was assistant coach of Spartak Moscow when he was stabbed to death.
Oleg Kostrikov (1971-1999) – 28 ans
Playing in the second division in Russia, he collapsed in the middle of the match when he was in the neutral zone. The cause of his death according to the autopsy: cerebral hemorrhage.
Aleksandr Osadchy (1975-1996) – 21 ans
Of Ukrainian origin, he was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 1993. He was a very promising Russian defenseman, but his life came to a halt when he returned to play in Moscow after a brief two-year stint in North America. Information about his death is unclear. Some evoke a suicide and others, a heart attack.
Vladimir Shepovalov (1948-1995) – 47 ans
He was one of the best Russian goalkeepers of his time, in the shadow of Vladislav Tretiak. He was found frozen to death at a bus stop.
Sergei Kapustin (1953-1995) – 42 ans
Inducted into the Russian Hockey Hall of Fame, he was one of the greatest Russian players in history, including winning the gold medal at the Innsbruck Olympics. Drafted by the New York Rangers, he obviously never dared to come to the NHL. He lost his life in unclear circumstances after being hospitalized with a minor elbow injury.
Arkady Rudakov (1946-1995) – 49 ans
This former Spartak from Moscow was killed at his residence in unknown circumstances.
Sergei Korotkov (1951-1995) – 44 ans
Having also been with Spartak Moscow for a good part of his career, this defender who represented the national team was killed at his house in unknown circumstances.
Viktors Hatulevs (1955-1994) – 39 ans
The first player from the Soviet Union to be drafted (with the Flyers in 1975), this Latvian was a top Soviet prospect in the juniors. He was banned from hockey in 1981 for his numerous problems with violence on the ice. Reports of his death point to a heart attack as he walked down the street. He had serious alcohol problems.
Aleksandr Smagin (1967–1994) – 27 ans
Another incomprehensible case of a heart attack at a young age. He collapsed during summer training while playing for Tyumen, Russia.
Oleg Churashov (1945-1992) – 45 ans
A solid defender who even played for his national team, he died shortly after the end of his career in his sleep due to a heart problem, according to the information made public.
Nikolai Shorin (1949-1992) – 43 ans
An excellent Russian striker with Metallurg Chelyabinsk in the big Russian league, he died four years after his retirement, when he was the team’s assistant coach. He would simply have disappeared, and never left a trace.
Mikhail Kropotov (1953-1992) – 39 ans
A member of the junior national team, he had a great career, notably with Leningrad. He died of a heart attack after collapsing while walking in the middle of the street.
Sergei Bushmelev (1966-1992) – 26 ans
A solid striker from Spartak Moscow. He represented his country on the international stage. His career came to an abrupt end when he was shot and killed while in a restaurant.
Valentin Grigoriev (1939-1990) – 51 ans
A great Russian player in the 1960s in Moscow, he then became a renowned coach in the best Soviet league in the 80s, before experiencing a violent death. He was found run over by a train overnight.
Andrei Zemko (1961-1988) – 27 ans
A great Soviet hope with the national junior team, he died of a heart attack during summer training a few years later.