Artemi Panarin being targeted by ‘villains’: Ex-KHL teammate

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Five former teammates of Artemi Panarin now have told The Post they have never heard of the assault allegations levied against the Rangers’ star winger by their former KHL coach.

Andrei Nazarov, who coached the 2011-12 Vityaz team, recently told a Russian tabloid that Panarin beat up an 18-year-old Latvian girl following a road loss in December 2011.

Maxim Sitnikov, who played just two games with Vityaz in 2011-12, but said he frequently practiced with the active roster during that season, told The Post he had never heard of a physical altercation between his teammate and a woman at a hotel bar in Riga, Latvia.

“There was no such thing!” said Sitnikov, who now coaches 12-year-olds in Yaroslavl, Russia, after The Post reached him through Facebook messenger.

“[Artemi] Panarin is a good person, friend and teammate! [Artemi] is now a star of a large-scale level and the brighter he plays, the more villains will put sticks in his wheels and say all sorts of nonsense!”

The former Russian forward also played alongside Panarin on the MKHL’s Russian Knights, which appears to be the Vityaz farm team.

Sitnikov, who retired from hockey due to a shoulder injury, said people like Panarin “can be counted on one hand.”

Artemi Panarin has taken a leave of absence from the Rangers.
Artemi Panarin has taken a leave of absence from the Rangers.
Howard Simmons

“The New York Rangers are very lucky to have such a player,” he said.

The 28-year-old Sitnikov is the latest former teammate of Panarin’s during that 2011-12 KHL season, when Nazarov claims the alleged altercation occurred, to tell The Post he hadn’t heard of such an incident.

Another teammate, Mikhail Ansin, told Russian outlet Sports-Express on Wednesday that there was an incident in Riga, Latvia, in 2011 involving Panarin, but it did not play out the way Nazarov depicted.

“Artemi didn’t beat anyone, maybe pushed one girl a little bit, nothing more,” Ansin told Sports-Express.

Ansin also said police came to the team hotel, but left after determining the incident did not warrant charges. He also disputed Nazarov’s claim about police being paid off, noting that the players didn’t have that type of money at the time.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Jon Mirasty called his former coach’s accusations “fishy” in wake of Panarin’s outspokenness against Russian president Vladimir Putin’s regime. Panarin has also publicly shown support for Russian opposition Alexei Navalny as recently as last month.

Nazarov, who made the allegation in an interview with Russian publication Komsomolskaya Pravda, is a Putin loyalist and has called for Russian players to be jailed should they speak out against the country.

“I’m pretty sure I would have heard something like that, you know, being one of the older veteran players there,” Mirasty, a former Canadian winger, told The Post. “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?”

In a statement to ESPN, the KHL said it has “not been aware of or received a complaint in relation to any incident involving Panarin in December 2011.”

The league also said if it did receive any complaint, it would have investigated “as we take any allegations of misconduct incredibly seriously,” per ESPN.

Kip Brennan, a Canadian winger who spent parts of five seasons in the NHL and played three games for the Islanders in 2007-08, told The Post over Facebook messenger that he “didn’t know or hear that something like that ever happened.”

“He was a great guy, he was hilarious in the locker room,” Brennan said. “He always worked on his English with the North American guys and was a very talented young player.”

Two other former Vityaz teammates, who requested to remain anonymous, agreed with Mirasty’s and Brennan’s stances on the situation.

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