Ukrainian hockey coach held in Pa. fondling case
An elite Ukrainian hockey coach accused of fondling a teen attending clinics in the U.S. frequently traveled with his charges, transporting them from city to city for camps and tournaments, according to court documents.
Ivan Pravilov, a mentor to several NHL and college players, will spend a week in detention before a Jan. 27 bail hearing, a federal magistrate ruled Friday.
Pravilov, 48, voiced concerns for the 20 or so players visiting the U.S. this month to train with him and asked for an earlier hearing date.
''It's urgent. Because now my team is beheaded,'' he begged the judge, speaking through an interpreter.
The players stay with host families and are being cared for, according to a team assistant in the courtroom who declined to give his name.
Pravilov was charged Tuesday with fondling a boy at his Philadelphia apartment as the 14-year-old slept near a teammate. The teammate, also 14, was slapped and threatened by Pravilov for later publicizing the Jan. 3 incident, according to court documents. The allegations reached authorities when a host parent reported it.
The charges come less than a month after Maxim Starchenko, one of Pravilov's former players, published a book alleging the coach regularly abused team members physically, mentally and sexually.
Pravilov faces six to eight years in prison if convicted of taking a minor over a state line for sexual purposes. He had taken the two teens to his apartment from the home of a host family in Wilmington, Del. A public defender will be appointed for him based on his financial need, the magistrate said.
The website for the coach's hockey school, Ivan Pravilov's Unique Hockey School, says it held camps throughout the East Coast last summer.
New Jersey Devils forward Dainius Zubrus is one of his more famous proteges. Zubrus left his native Lithuania as a boy to play for Pravilov in Ukraine and made the NHL by 18, according to his mother, Irene Zubriene. She and her son, now 33, remain close to Pravilov, and the coach uses her Cherry Hill, N.J., home as a mail drop, she said.
Pravilov brings young hockey players to the U.S. for about a month at a time to train, play in tournaments and perhaps catch the eye of a college or NHL scout, Zubriene said Friday. She said she has often had a dozen or more players stay in her downstairs living area, while Pravilov slept in an upstairs bedroom.
She said she doesn't believe the allegations and suspects they stem from lingering rivalries in the Ukraine.
''It's not true. It's not true,'' Zubriene, 60, who saw Pravilov last week, told The Associated Press during an interview Friday at her home. ''He's a good man.''
Starchenko, 33, tells a different story. In a phone interview from suburban Detroit, he said people feared Pravilov. Now, Starchenko said, he hoped his book ''Behind the Iron Curtain: Tears in the Perfect Hockey `Gulag''' would spur other players to come forward.
''I think it's going to start snowballing like crazy,'' Starchenko told The Associated Press.
Starchenko played for Pravilov's Druzhba 78 team from the time he was 8 until he was 17.
Pravilov lost his job at a school in Kharkov several years ago and came to the U.S., Zubriene said. He has a U.S. visa through June despite an Interpol warrant seeking his arrest over a 2007 assault in the Ukraine that involved several men, according to court papers.
Pravilov last entered the United States in June 2007, according to a federal law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss details of the case. The Interpol alert was issued later in 2007.
Pravilov had been holding practices with Ukrainian boys at The Rink at Old York Road in Elkins Park since November, rink general manager and hockey director Justin Adamski Sr. said Thursday.
Pravilov coached at rinks throughout the area in exchange for free ice time, Adamski said.
Adamski said he never saw anything inappropriate going on between Pravilov and the boys, who were mostly between the ages of 12 and 15.
''We were giving him ice time to skate,'' Adamski said.
Pravilov's school had about a dozen players practicing at the same rink on Friday. A coach working with the players declined comment, saying he did not speak English.
Two vans bearing the school's logo were parked outside the rink.
Rink officials declined to discuss the matter on Friday, referring questions to a management company.
A woman who helped host families in the United States said she knew Pravilov well, having volunteered her time for the boys.
''It's still very hard to comprehend everything,'' Denise Reid said. ''We're devastated. We're worried for the boys.''
A coach at Pravilov's school in Ukraine declined to give his name and wouldn't comment. The Interior Ministry, which oversees the Ukrainian branch of Interpol, had no comment.
Associated Press writers Kathy Matheson, Dan Gelston and Alicia A. Caldwell contributed to this report.