Thursday, January 6, 2011
Team Russia kicked off plane
CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. -- Russia's gold-medal celebration went into overtime. And that prevented the jubilant participants from boarding their flight Thursday morning, a day after they won the world junior hockey championship.
About 30 members of the Russian contingent were asked to get off a Delta Air Lines flight from Buffalo to Atlanta after boarding for takeoff early Thursday morning, an airport spokesman said.
After players and managers spent the day at the Days Hotel across the street -- where a front desk clerk said they were "sleeping it off" -- a team spokesman said the group would fly out in two groups Friday.
A tired-looking Mikhail Zislis, the team's media officer, was getting little rest, though.
"I cannot sleep because everybody in Russia is calling me asking me what's going on," Zislis said inside the hotel lobby.
Later, he refuted Delta's claim the group was unruly and accused the crew of overreacting, even after being assured by coach Valeri Bragin that he'd keep his players under control.
"I don't think it was fair," Zislis said. "They didn't want to listen to us."
Russia forward Artemi Panarin, left, precipitated rhe celebration after he scored the go-ahead goal in the championship win against Canada.
The delay means the group will be flying home on Russia's Christmas.
The group had arrived at Buffalo Niagara International Airport in time for a 6:10 a.m. ET flight to Atlanta, but was turned back by the flight crew.
"To ensure the safe operation of the flight, the crew of Flight 1266 denied boarding to 30 passengers who were traveling together and displaying unruly behavior," Delta spokeswoman Susan Chana Elliott said. "The passengers are being rebooked on a future flight."
Zislis said team members, all under 20 years old, celebrated their win with champagne, but nothing stronger, in the locker room.
Canadian Press video shows elated players whooping it up later at a hotel bar.
"They were definitely intoxicated, that's for sure," bus driver Curtis Hall, who drove the Russians from the Adam's Mark hotel to the airport, told The Buffalo News. "They were so drunk they had to carry a couple of the guys onto the bus."
Hall described Russian players honking the bus horn en route to the airport after boarding about 3 a.m. and having to wait around because one player had trouble exiting the bus.
"I was glad to get rid of them," he said.
Coach Valeri Bragin appeared in the hotel lobby about 1:30 p.m. ET and signed an autograph for a fan at the front desk.
"I don't know what happened," he said when asked about the scene at the airport.
He would not say whether players had been drinking.
Russia overcame a three-goal deficit in the third period to stun Canada 5-3 in the gold-medal game Wednesday night. It was the country's first gold medal since 2003.
An hour and a half after the upset win, several Russian coaches and trainers went on the ice -- one holding a bottle of Crown Royal Canadian whiskey and others sipping from paper cups -- to pose for pictures in front of the scoreboard that had been lowered to ice level after the game.
The players, all 20 years old or younger, already had left the ice.
Airport spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer said that after leaving the flight, the group headed to the baggage terminal to collect its belongings, which were taken off the plane.
Tournament officials had no immediate comment.
The Russians enjoyed a wild on-ice celebration once the final horn sounded, players throwing their gloves and sticks in the air as they jumped off the bench to mob goalie Igor Bobkov.
The celebration eventually spilled over into the media interview area, where team captain Vladimir Tarasenko and teammate Yevgeni Kuznetsov hugged and chanted, "We're champions! We're champions."
The Russians proved to be the comeback kids during the 11-day tournament. They reached the final by overcoming third-period deficits to win their previous two games.
They weren't counted among the favorites in a tournament that featured Canada and defending champion United States. Russia also was coming off an embarrassing sixth-place finish last year.