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NHL Star on Leave After Russian 'Intimidation'

Newser — Rob Quinn

The upheaval over the jailing of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny has reached the National Hockey League, where New York Rangers star Artemi Panaran is on leave after what the team calls "intimidation." Panaran—an outspoken Vladimir Putin critic who voiced support for Navalny last month—is one of the league's 38 Russian players.

In a weekend story in Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, a former coach claimed that the player had attacked an 18-year-old woman in Latvia in 2011, when he was 19, the AP reports.

The coach, former NFL player Andrei Nazarov, said Panaran's support of Navalny motivated him to speak out. He claimed Panaran punched the woman to the floor of a hotel bar, but the case wasn't pursued by authorities because a bribe had been paid.

"Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story," the Rangers said in a statement, per CBS Sports. "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." Panaran, who still has family in Russia, is one of the few NHL players to openly criticize Russian authorities, the Guardian reports.

In a 2019 interview, he said it was wrong for Russia to treat Putin as "superhuman." Last month, he shared a " Freedom for Navalny" message on Instagram.

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This article originally appeared on Newser: NHL Star on Leave After Russian 'Intimidation'