The Blame Game

The Russian, Czech, and Finnish hockey teams bickering about who got too drunk to fly home from the World Juniors is the best saga in sports right now

Codie McLachlan

Thank goodness for Google Translate. It’s not perfect. It paints with a broad brush. You have to read between the lines a bit and make an educated guess or two. Without it, however, we would be completely unaware of the saga currently playing out between Russian, Czech, and Finnish junior hockey teams, and that would be a shame, because it’s easily the best thing happening in sports right now.

Last week, the IIHF, cancelled the 2022 World Junior Championship midway through its scheduled duration citing mounting COVID-19 concerns. The decision was met with immediate controversy, with many claiming that the COVID issues were a direct result of the IIHF’s own organizational incompetence (according to reports, their bubble had A LOT of holes) as opposed to the participating teams, who had spent Christmas cooped up in Calgary hotel rooms in order to compete. The complaints ended there, however, and soon the national teams from around the world began to disperse, heading back to their respective homelands.

On December 31st, the Russian hockey coalition boarded a flight bound for Frankfurt, where they were scheduled to arrive in the early hours of New Year’s Day. On board the flight were also the Czech and Finnish teams. This is where the fun begins.

Before the flight could take off, all three teams were kicked off the plane and left stranded at Calgary International, armed guards at the ready. 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:

“It got messy before the plane took off. Several members of the Russian squad were seriously intoxicated and refused to wear mouth guards, and a Russian leader is even, according to Czech team leader Otakar Černý, smoking in the hallway on his way to the plane. Several players brought their own alcohol that they drank, and refused to stop despite several instructions.

It all ended with all players and leaders in both Russia and the Czech Republic being expelled from the plane, and not allowed to travel home … Only after four hours of waiting could the plane finally take off … It was completely crazy when they took us out of the plane, and we stood and waited without knowing what was happening — with a lot of heavily armed personnel in place.”

According to Lehmann, despite the Russian team causing all the commotion (she describes the Czech and Finnish teams as “completely innocent”), all three teams were removed from the flight because they were wearing similar grey sweatshirts and the flight staff could not tell the difference between the teams. If you don’t find this part hilarious, you’re in the wrong place.

Gavriil Grigorov

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 were clearly not following the hygiene rules,” Černý continued.”Alcohol probably played a role in that. Some of the passengers then complained about the Russians' behavior, and the crew therefore had the entire plane evacuated.”

As you can imagine, these claims—in addition to a ridiculous anecdote about Russian coach Sergei Zubov stashing an e-cigarette up his sleeve and taking puffs of it in the airplane tunnel—kicked the Russian retaliation into full swing. Russian news outlet Sport-Express did not deny claims against the Russian team, but alleged they were far from the only faction to deserve the blame, saying of the Czech team

“​​The representatives of the Czech national team distinguished themselves more, they carried alcohol with them, and began to celebrate the New Year in advance. So to speak, we decided to stock up on a traditional foamy drink. Unfortunately, the flip side of Czech beer love rarely goes unnoticed. Their team got into similar stories before. 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 seriously damaged.”

Then Sport-Express took aim at the Finnish side, reportedly the only team allowed back on the flight to Frankfurt, writing …

“According to our information, one of the staff members of the Finnish national team literally could not sit still and fell on his side. Then, forgive me for the details, he vomited under his feet.”

So who was drunker? What team truly deserves the title of "must unfit to fly"? The war of words rages on, but chances are only the brave flight attendants of Calgary-Frankfurt will ever know the truth. One thing is certain, however:

This is the greatest sports saga of 2022 so far, and that’s saying something.