New York Rangers Star to Take Leave Amid ‘Unfounded’ Abuse Claims

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New York Rangers hockey star Artemi Panarin is taking a leave of absence after allegations of abuse emerged from Russia that his team called unfounded.

The move follows a story published on a hockey website in Russia alleging that Panarin, then 19, assaulted an 18-year-old woman in a hotel bar in 2011. The account comes from Andrei Nazarov, the head coach of a pro team in Russia and an outspoken supporter of the nation’s president, Vladimir Putin, according to the New York Post. The Russian-born Panarin, 29, has been critical of Putin.

New York Rangers Star to Take Leave Amid ‘Unfounded’ Abuse Claims

The Rangers put out a statement saying they “fully support” him and will work with him to “identify the source of these unfounded allegations.”

“Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story,” the Rangers, part of Madison Square Garden Sports Corp., said in their statement. “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.”

On Jan. 21, Panarin posted a picture of himself with the message “Free Navalny,” a reference to Alexey Navalny, a Putin critic who was arrested last month. The case has spurred massive protests in Russia -- and condemnation by the European Union and the U.S.

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