Rangers star Artemi Panarin takes leave of absence following allegations in Russia

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Vincent Z. Mercogliano, Rockland/Westchester Journal News
·2 min read
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Star forward Artemi Panarin has taken a leave of absence from the New York Rangers, the team confirmed in a statement Monday.

It was originally reported by the New York Post that Panarin's leave came in response to a "political hit piece" that was published in his native Russia alleging that the 29-year-old forward "beat up an 18-year-old girl" in 2011.

Multiple people with knowledge of the situation confirmed to the USA TODAY NETWORK that Panarin believes these allegations are retribution for his outspoken opposition of Russian president Vladimir Putin. The people requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.

On Jan. 21, Panarin posted an Instagram message that, when translated to English read, "Freedom for Navalny," which voiced his support for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The Rangers began practice without Panarin at 11 a.m. Monday at the MSG Training Center in Tarrytown, New York, and issued the following statement:

"Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story. 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."

The story alleging the physical altercation with a young girl 10 years ago was based on an accusation from Andrei Nazarov, one of Panarin's former coaches while playing for Vityaz Chekhov in Russia's KHL.

Panarin still has family in Russia, which raises concerns for their well being and safety. The expected length of his absence is unknown.

Check back for more on this developing story...

Vincent Z. Mercogliano is the New York Rangers beat reporter for the USA TODAY Network. Read more of his work at lohud.com/sports/rangers/ and follow him on Twitter @vzmercogliano.

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Artemi Panarin taking leave of absence after allegations in Russia