Saturday, February 21, 2009

Report Links Three Montreal Canadiens Players to Man with Possible Organized Crime Ties

National Hockey League officials are investigating a report linking three Montreal Canadiens players to a man with possible ties to organized crime.

The NHL “is aware of the reports and is in the process of gathering additional information,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said today in an e-mailed statement.

Montreal’s La Presse newspaper reported today that defenseman Roman Hamrlik and forwards Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn have relationships with Pasquale Mangiola, who was arrested last week during a police raid on street gangs and drug dealers, according to a Feb. 17 Montreal police statement. He could be charged with conspiracy and possessing and trafficking cocaine.

Andrei Kostitsyn told La Presse after his team’s game in Pittsburgh last night that he knows Mangiola but that he knew nothing about his situation. None of the Canadiens players mentioned by La Presse has been accused of wrongdoing. Andrei’s brother Sergei said today he can’t comment, according to a broadcast on Montreal radio station CKAC.

Donald Beauchamp, a spokesman for the club, told reporters at a televised press conference in suburban Montreal today that Canadiens players won’t be available to comment on non-hockey related matters.

Canadiens General Manager Bob Gainey said he’s “very concerned” by the report and won’t tolerate the kind of behavior the newspaper described. The Canadiens, winners of an NHL record 24 Stanley Cups, are celebrating their centenary season this year. “We’ve made the players understand that this is not the kind of conduct that is part of people in our organization,” he said. “As young athletes, they have to make stronger choices than the person besides them. We’ve upped the message, we’ve upped the intensity.”

Off-ice behavior may be one of the reasons the team hasn’t performed well, Gainey said. The Canadiens have won three of their last 15 games. “I can only go on what I know today, and what I know today is not good for our team,” he said. “It doesn’t reflect well on our team or on the individuals. It cannot be extinguished as a possible inhibitor to our performance.”

Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau, in comments broadcast in Quebec by television network RDI, said the club must do a better job of monitoring what its players do outside the rink. “Our players are adults and we try to protect them as best we can, but they are in demand all over the place,” Carbonneau said. “One thing is for sure, we are going to tighten the leash, and tighten it quite a bit.”

Gainey said he’s not surprised by the report, given the level of interest for hockey in Montreal. The Canadiens have sold out 168 consecutive games, stretching back four years. “It’s not very surprising if you have a sense of how many people would like to get their tentacles not only on the players individually, but into the organization,” he said.

While the team regularly fields requests for appearances at charity events, “there are also people who are looking for trophy friends or the possibility of being close to somebody who earns a million dollars plus,” he said. “They are still young kids and some of them could still be in high school.”

Thanks to Frederico Tomesco

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