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High-flying Russians grounded for 'unruly behaviour'

Team Russia forward Artemi Panarin (27) scores the game winning goal on Team Canada goaltender Mark Visentin (30) as defenceman Simon Despres (3) defends during third period Gold medal game at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships in Buffalo, N.Y. on Wednesday January 5, 2011.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

After their crushing gold-medal upset over Canada, Russia's junior hockey players and team officials began a celebration that went very deep into overtime.

The festivities were still in full swing when the contingent arrived at the Buffalo airport to catch a 6:10 a.m. ET flight to Atlanta on Thursday, the first stop on the journey home.

They were so disruptive that a Delta Air Lines crew kicked the 30-member group off the plane during boarding, saying they posed a safety risk.

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"In order to ensure the safe operation of the flight, the crew of Flight 1266 denied boarding to 30 passengers who were flying together and displaying unruly behaviour," said Betsy Talton, a Delta spokeswoman.

The Buffalo Niagara International Airport called in extra police, but they weren't needed, said C. Douglas Hartmayer, a spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

Mikhail Zislis, spokesman for the Russian team, called the episode an overreaction and disagreed with Delta's characterization of the group as unruly, saying most were exhausted and just wanted to sleep. He said that not all team members had even boarded the plane when the group was told to leave.

"I don't understand why our guys were sent off the plane," he said in an interview. "We have different opinions. In some aspects, their point of view is wrong."

Instead of winging their way home in time for Russian Orthodox Christmas on Friday, the contingent spent Thursday resting at the Days Hotel across from the airport. Delta rebooked them on a flight out of Buffalo on Friday morning.

Champagne started flowing in the locker room after the team's 5-3 victory in the world junior championship on Wednesday night, Mr. Zislis said. Later, several Russian coaches and trainers went onto the ice - one holding what appeared to be a bottle of alcohol and others sipping from cups - to pose for pictures in front of the scoreboard, which had been lowered to ice level.

The team then took the party to the Tiffany Rose lounge in the lobby of the Adam's Mark Hotel, where they stayed during the tournament.

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The players and other members of the Russian contingent marked their victory well into the night, drinking and chanting "Russia!" and "Beat Canada!" A video of the celebrations shows several players in jerseys with gold medals around their necks, toasting with drinks in hand.

While the legal drinking age in New York State is 21, all players in the tournament are 20 or younger. Mr. Zislis said he did not want to comment on whether players drank at the hotel bar, adding that the legal age in Russia is 18.

The general manager of the Adam's Mark Hotel did not respond to interview requests.

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