Four of Artemi Panarin’s former KHL teammates told The Post they find the assault allegations leveled against the Rangers star by his KHL coach difficult to believe and none of them can recall the incident happening.
The allegations, aired Monday to a Russian tabloid by former Vityaz coach Andrei Nazarov, have forced Panarin to step away from the NHL. All four players were teammates of the winger under Nazarov, who claims Panarin beat up an 18-year-old girl while partying at a hotel bar in Riga, Latvia, following a Vityaz road loss on Dec. 11, 2011.
Nazarov, a known supporter of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, has repeatedly criticized Panarin for the 29-year-old Russian native’s outspoken beliefs regarding Putin’s regime. Additionally, Nazarov also once called for foreign players who criticize Russia to be jailed.
Jon Mirasty, reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, said his former coach’s accusations seem “really fishy” and that he had never heard any rumblings of such an incident occurring.
“[Panarin] was a great kid, I have nothing but nice things to say about him, so when I heard that, I was like, ‘Oh, that doesn’t sound like him,’ ” Mirasty, a Canadian winger, told The Post. “And I’m pretty sure I would have heard something like that, you know, being one of the older veteran players there.
“I never heard anything like that, so I was kind of blown away. I’m obviously not saying it didn’t happen, but if I were to guess, [it didn’t happen]. And why is it coming out 10 years later?”
Mirasty said he had a lot of respect for Nazarov considering he had played parts of 16 seasons in the NHL (with the Sharks, Lightning, Flames, Ducks, Coyotes and Wild) and was a well-established coach in the KHL.
“He treated me good, he was obviously an ex tough guy, and then played at the NHL level too,” Mirasty said. “He was always really good to us, and it was kind of a strange year for us there because there was very few of us that were all Canadian guys and we didn’t speak a word of Russian.
“We really related to him because he spoke pretty good English and I don’t have anything really bad to say about him either. That’s why, to me, this is all really shocking.”
Mirasty questioned the timeline of the accusations, however, and noted that he had seen Panarin publicly speak out against the Putin regime. Panarin showed support for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in an Instagram post last month.
“I don’t even think Panarin could even beat up a girl,” Mirasty said. “He was a little, skinny kid and he was always just smiling, making people laugh, and he was a hell of a hockey player. It just don’t add up to me.”
Reached by Facebook messenger Tuesday afternoon, Kip Brennan, a Canadian who briefly played for the Islanders, also said he didn’t know anything about Panarin’s involvement in a physical altercation with a woman during the season they played together.
“I didn’t know or hear that something like that ever happened,” Brennan, who spent parts of five seasons in the NHL and played three games for the Islanders in 2007-08, told The Post.
“He was a great guy, he was hilarious in the locker room. He always worked on his English with the North American guys and was a very talented young player.”
Two other former teammates, who requested to remain anonymous, agreed with Mirasty’s and Brennan’s stances on the situation.
“I just know Artemi as a very happy, funny guy,” one said. “Always had a smile on his face at the rink and was a good teammate.”