September 07, 2011

Remembering Alexander Karpovtsev

Moscow native Alexander Karpovtsev was an intriguing Soviet import.

Blessed with good size (6'2" and 210lbs) and great skating strength (in terms of balance and agility, and even quickness out of his pivots), the New York Rangers had high hopes for Karpovtsev when they acquired him from the Quebec Nordiques. The Nords drafted the Moscow Dynamo defenseman 158th overall in the 1990 Entry Draft but never brought him to North America. That only happened after the Rangers, led by general manager Neil Smith's enthusiasm for Soviet players, brought him over in 1993. Sergei Nemchinov, Alexei Kovalev and Sergei Zubov were also amongst the influx.

Karpovtsev enjoyed 5 seasons in New York, including in 1994 when the team won the Stanley Cup. It may have been the Rangers' first championship in over 50 years, but Karpovtsev hoisted the chalice as a NHL rookie. In doing so, he, Nemchinov, Kovalev and Zubov became the first Russian players to have their name on the Stanley Cup!

But Karpovtsev never really got untracked. The Rangers had great depth on the blue line, limiting Karpovtsev's playing time. Also limiting his playing time was a series of injuries. He missed half of two seasons in New York due to injuries.

The Rangers moved Karpovtsev to Toronto in 1998 in exchange for Mathieu Schneider. The Rangers were looking for an experienced upgrade as they figured Karpovtsev was no better than a third pairing dman who could make safe outlets from his own zone, tie up larger forwards in front of the net and maybe eat up some second pairing power play minutes.

Karpovtsev played two seasons in Toronto (quietly having a really solid 1998-99 season) before moving to Chicago for four seasons. He seemingly spent as much time in the medical room as he did on the ice, drawing famous criticism of his desire to play. Chicago broadcaster Pat Foley was not shy to rip into Karpovtsev's character, damaging Karpovtsev's reputation. He essentially left the NHL, rightly or wrongly, known for poor work ethic. He certainly is remembered in Chicago with great despise.

Karpovtsev briefly appeared with the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers, but for all intents and purposes he moved back to Russia to complete his career.

Karpovtsev was starting his coaching career but tragedy would strike. Karpovtsev and Igor Korolev were assistant coaches for Brad McCrimmon with the KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. The team was chartering on a private jet for their opening game of the 2011-12 season. The plane crashed, killing 43 of the 45 people on board.

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