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Serious allegation against Artemi Panarin a reminder of Vladimir Putin's effect on Russian athletes

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When New York Rangers forward Artemi Panarin supported Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in an Instagram post last month, it probably didn’t occur to him that he might be inviting disruption into his life.

On Monday, Panarin announced he was taking a leave of absence to deal with an accusation by his former coach in the Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda that he struck an 18-year-old woman in a Latvian hotel bar 10 years ago.

In a statement issued by the Rangers, Panarin vehemently denied the allegations, calling them a “fabricated story.” The New York Post interviewed three former players from the Chekhov Vityaz team who said they don’t have any memory of the event described in the accusation.

“This is clearly an intimidation tactic being used against him for being outspoken on recent political events,” the Rangers said.

 The timing and source of the  accusation are peculiar. 

“Anybody off the street would have a sense that this is very strange,” said former NHL player (1998-2001) Stu Grimson, a lawyer and an analyst for NHL Network. “This is very uncoincidental that these allegations are coming out against Panarin at a time when he has taken this position in support of the opposition in Russia.”

Artemi Panarin, the New York Rangers' leading scorer, has taken a leave of absence.

The accusation was made by former NHL player Andrei Nazarov, who was Panarin’s coach when the incident was said to have occurred. At the time, Panarin was a 20-year-old unheralded player on Chekhov Vityaz in the Kontinental Hockey League, Russia’s top professional hockey league. He had been passed over in the NHL draft and didn’t appear to have much of a future in the NHL.



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