Earlier this week, rumors ran rampant that Russian sports officials had replaced the entire U-18 team headed to the IIHF world championships in Grand Forks, North Dakota, with the nation’s U-17 team (a.k.a. birth year 1999).
The alleged reason? All the players tested positive for Meldonium, the performance-enhancing heart medicine that increases blood flow for athletes. It was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned substance list in January. As the New York Times reported, “158 athletes, at least 30 of them Russian, have tested positive for the drug, according to Russia’s sports ministry.”
That included a provisional suspension for tennis star Maria Sharapova, and a positive test for Olympic gold medalist in short-track speedskating, Semion Elistratov.
The first confirmed news about the team was the departure of head coach Vitali Prokhorov, who was removed by the Minister of Sports. Then it was confirmed that the new coach would be Sergei Golubovich, and he would bring his U-17 roster with him to replace the nearly the full U-18 roster.
It’s here that things get a little Iron Curtian-y. Despite widespread reports about the doping scandal and the complete overhaul of the team’s roster on the eve of the tournament, Russian Hockey Federation officials continued to deny that Meldonium was the factor behind it all.
“This decision is the Russian Hockey Federation, which was agreed with the Ministry of Sports, as well as the tactical decision of the coaching staff. I want to say that the young guys are very eager for the fight, and they want to show themselves at the highest level,” said Russian President Hockey Federation. “I also want to ask journalists not to use rumors and not to speculate on what happened. Let's look at the actual thing and wish good luck to our team.”
But as Russian journalist Slava Malamud wrote on the scandal:
It's all confirmed now. Russia to be represented by U17s. Overwhelming majority of U18 team failed Meldonium test. Statement still pending— Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud) April 6, 2016
Honorary Hockey Fed president Alexander Steblin, hiding nothing: "I'd give life bans to those who gave meldonium to the kids" (via 360tv.ru)— Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud) April 7, 2016
Meldonium was given to U18 players systematically throughout the season as a part of the day-to-day maintenance routine.— Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud) April 7, 2016
The NHL and NHLPA’s performance-enhancing drug test does not screen for meldonium, but that could change in the offseason. Because who wouldn’t like to see an entire NHL team replaced by, like, its AHL affiliate right before the Stanley Cup Final?
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