New York Rangers forward Artemi Panarin is taking a leave of absence after a hockey coach in his native Russia accused him of beating an 18-year-old woman in 2011.
However, the NHL star denies the claim and says he’s really being targeted for criticizing President Vladimir Putin.
Former NHL player and current Russian league (KHL) coach Andrei Nazarov told a Russian newspaper that Panarin ‘sent [the woman] to the floor with powerful blows’ during the alleged 2011 altercation in the Latvian capital of Riga, according to a translation provided to ESPN. A known Putin supporter, Nazarov now coaches Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, but previously worked with Panarin with the Moscow-area team, HC Vityaz.
In a team statement, Panarin denied the accusation, which he likened to an ‘intimidation tactic.’
‘Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story,’ read the team statement. ‘This is clearly an intimidation tactic being used against him for being outspoken on recent political events.
‘Artemi is obviously shaken and concerned and will take some time away from the team. The Rangers fully support Artemi and will work with him to identify the source of these unfounded allegations.’
New York Rangers forward Artemi Panarin is taking a leave of absence from the team after a hockey coach in his native Russia accused him of beating an 18-year-old woman in 2011, but the NHL star denies the claim and says he’s being targeted for criticizing Vladimir Putin
Vladimiri Putin (far left, right) pictured with Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin (right). Unlike Ovechkin, Panarin has been critical of Putin, and recently post a picture on Instagram in support of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Panarin is the most popular Russian hockey player to criticize Putin
Panarin had called for opposition leader Alexei Navalny to be released in a January post
The New York Post‘s Larry Brooks first reported Panarin’s absence, noting that a primary concern is the safety of his family. Panarin’s grandparents still live in Russia.
According to the translation ESPN received, Nazarov claimed Panarin had been detained by police in Riga as a result of the alleged altercation, but was let off the hook after a ‘40,000 euro bribe.’
Unlike other popular Russian players, such as Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin, the 29-year-old Panarin has been critical of Putin, and recently post a picture on Instagram in support of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
On Monday, former NHL player and current Russian league coach Andrei Nazarovn (pictured as a member of the Coyotes in 2004) said that Panarin physically assaulted the woman in the Latvian capital of Riga in 2011. A known Putin supporter, Nazarov now coaches Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, but previously worked with Panarin with the Moscow-area team, Vitayz, in 2011
Speaking with YouTube channel Vsemu Golovin in 2019, Panarin attacked Putin directly.
‘The mistake in our society is treating him like a superhuman,’ Panarin said of Putin, as translated by Russian sports reporter Slava Malamud. ‘He is a regular person, like us, and he is serving us.’
Fans and reporters were quick to slam Nazarov’s claims on social media.
The Panarin thing is clearly fabricated news that ‘broke’ as retaliation because of his outspoken support for Navalny,’ wrote Rangers blogger, David Shapiro.
Navalny is one of Putin’s biggest critics and was arrested in January upon returning to Russia after being poisoned and then treated outside of the country. The 44-year-old attorney and activist has accused Putin of ordering his murder.
Nazarov has been a controversial figure in the KHL.
Following his own NHL career in which he recorded over 200 penalty minutes in three separate seasons, Coach Nazarov has been seen attacking fans with a stick, garnering a suspension. Later he allegedly attacked a team doctor, and then threw a water bottle at an opposing team’s player, for which he received another ban.
Ovechkin is a staunch supporter of Putin, who, according to US agencies, ordered interference into the 2016 election with the aim of hurting now-former President Donald Trump’s then-opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The NHL veteran went so far as announce the start of a social movement he called ‘PutinTeam’ in a 2017 post on Instagram.
‘Today, I want to announce a social movement in the name of PutinTeam,’ Ovechkin wrote in the post, which featured a picture of him being embraced by Putin. ‘Be a part of this team — to me it’s a privilege, it’s like the feeling of when you put on the jersey of the Russian team, knowing that the whole country is rooting for you.’
Ovechkin, one of the NHL’s most decorated players and a future Hall of Famer, has said his praise of Putin is somehow non-political, stressing that he hopes for better relations between the US and Russia.
Alexander Ovechkin started a social media movement, #PutinTeam, to support his president