Thank god for google translate. It’s not perfect. It paints with a broad brush. It takes a bit of reading between the lines and making an educated guess or two. However, without them we would not be at all aware of the saga that is currently unfolding between Russian, Czech and Finnish junior ice hockey teams and that would be a shame because it is by far the best thing happening in the sport right now.
Last week, the IIHF canceled the 2022 World Junior Championships in the middle of its scheduled duration, citing rising concerns about COVID-19. The decision immediately drew controversy, with many claiming the COVID troubles were a direct result of the IIHF’s own organizational incompetence (their bladder reportedly had MANY holes) in contrast to the participating teams, who spent Christmas at the Coop up in Calgary hotel rooms to compete. However, the complaints ended there, and soon national teams from around the world began to disperse and return to their respective home countries.
On December 31, the Russian Ice Hockey Coalition boarded a flight to Frankfurt, where it was scheduled to arrive in the early hours of New Year’s Day. The Czech and Finnish teams were also on board the flight. This is where the fun begins.
Before the flight could take off, all three teams were ejected from the plane and stranded at Calgary International, armed guards on standby. Finnish journalist Marie Lehmann, who was also on board the flight, published one of the first accounts of the chaos for SVT Sport, which reads as follows:
“Things got chaotic before the plane took off. Several members of the Russian squad were heavily intoxicated and refused to wear face masks, and one Russian leader even smokes in the hallway on the way to the plane, according to Czech team boss Otakar Černý. Several players brought their own alcohol which they drank and refused to stop despite multiple instructions.
It ended with all the players and executives both in Russia and Czech Republic being thrown off the plane and not being allowed to travel home… Only after four hours of waiting could the plane finally take off… It was completely insane when they got us out of the plane , and we stood and waited, not knowing what was happening – with a crowd of heavily armed personnel on the spot.”
According to Lehmann, despite the excitement from the Russian team (she describes the Czech and Finnish teams as “completely innocent”), all three teams were taken off the flight because they were wearing similar gray sweatshirts and the flight crew could not tell the difference between the teams . If you don’t find this part hilarious, you’ve come to the wrong place.
The Czechs further reinforced Lehmann’s claims with Černý saying in a press release: “Our players went to buy souvenirs from Canada and some of the players called their families at home. On the contrary, we saw Russian players sitting in a bar.”
“On the plane, we noticed that some members of the Russian team clearly did not follow the hygiene regulations,” Černý continued. “Alcohol probably played a role in it. Some passengers then complained about the behavior of the Russians and the crew, so the entire plane had to be evacuated.”
As you can imagine, these claims — along with a ridiculous anecdote about Russian coach Sergei Zubov tucking an e-cigarette up his sleeve and puffing on it in the plane tunnel — set the Russian retaliation in motion. Russian news agency Sport-Express did not deny the allegations against the Russian team, but claimed that they are far from the only faction who deserve the blame, saying about the Czech team…
“Representatives of the Czech national team distinguished themselves more, they carried alcohol with them and began to celebrate the New Year in advance. We decided to stock up on a traditional foam drink, so to speak. Unfortunately, the downside of the Czech love of beer rarely goes unnoticed. Her team had previously run into similar stories. For example, when the Czechs flew from Prague to Riga (for the 2021 World Cup), the bus carrying passengers from the airport to the plane was badly damaged.”
Then Sport-Express took aim at the Finnish side, allegedly the only team allowed back on the flight to Frankfurt, and wrote…
“According to our information, one of the Finnish national team employees literally could not sit still and fell on his side. Then pardon the details, he threw up under his feet.”
So who was drunker? Which team really deserves the “must be grounded” title? The war of words rages on, but likely only the brave Calgary-Frankfurt flight attendants will ever know the truth. However, one thing is certain: