Russia's World Junior champions booted from flight home
CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (AP) -- Russia's gold-medal celebration went into overtime. And that prevented them from boarding their flight Thursday morning, a day after they won the World Junior Hockey Championships.
About 30 members of the Russian contingent were asked to get off a Delta Air Lines flight for being unruly as they boarded 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 told The Associated Press 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."
The delay means the group will be flying home on Russia's Christmas.
The group had arrived at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport in time for a 6:10 a.m. 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.
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 came on the ice - one holding a bottle of Crown Royal Canadian whisky 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 had left the ice.
A statement posted on the Russian Hockey Federation website said the team would arrive home a day late because it was tardy getting to the airport.
"After the success in the final, the guys were overwhelmed by emotion," federation Executive Director Valery Fesyuk's statement said. "Therefore, gathering them took a little more time and the team arrived at the airport with a delay."
Airport spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer said after leaving the flight, the group headed to the baggage terminal to collect their 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 the defending champion United States. Russia was also coming off an embarrassing sixth-place finish last year.