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Canadiens 'concerned' about three players' tie to alleged criminal

February 20, 2009 |  7:42 pm

Montreal Canadiens General Manager Bob Gainey addressed his team and the media Friday about a report in the Montreal newspaper La Presse that had linked three players to a Montreal man arrested on drug charges.

Gainey said the Canadiens are "very concerned" about the report, which said brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn and defenseman Roman Hamrlik had ties to Pasquale Mangiola, who was arrested earlier this month in what Montreal police have dubbed "Project Axe."

Mangiola faces weapons, drug possession and drug trafficking charges, but the report said the Canadiens players are not suspected of any criminal activity.

La Presse reported that investigators tapped Mangiola's phone and monitored conversations with the Kostitsyn brothers, for whom he did various favors such as having their cars fixed, providing them vodka, introducing them to women and picking them up after games.

After obtaining a search warrant against Mangiola, detectives found financial records, some with the Canadiens' crest, belonging to the Kostitsyns.

The Kostitsyns are Belarusian, and Hamrlik is Czech.

"I can only go on what I know today, and what I know today is not good," Gainey said. "It doesn't reflect well on our team or the individuals.

"It must be extinguished as a possible inhibitor to our performance. Our message today was that we want to do things as players and individuals to come as close as possible to our potential, or surpass it."

The league is monitoring the situation through its security department. "The NHL is aware of the reports and is in the process of gathering additional information," Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement.

Gainey, during a team meeting, cautioned all players to be careful about the people with whom they socialize or otherwise associate.

"We get requests from charities," he said. "But there are also not good people who are looking for trophy friends or the possibility of being close to someone who earns $1 million-plus."

Coach Guy Carbonneau told reporters Friday that the team must "deal with the allegations and try to protect our players better."

Andrei Kostitsyn told La Presse he knew Mangiola but that he didn't know anything about his situation. Neither Andrei Kostitsyn nor Hamrlik was made available to the media Friday.

Sergei Kostitsyn was sent down to the team's AHL affiliate in Hamilton, Canada, a few days ago. He told reporters there that he couldn't comment on the report.

The NHL tries to keep a close eye on players' associations with potentially unsavory characters. The league has a security department, and each team has a security officer.

In the late 1990s, the league's biggest concern was reputed Russian mobsters who were pressuring prominent Russian players for protection money and often blackmailed them with threats that targeted players' families back home.

The revelations are the latest in a tumultuous week in which Gainey acquired defenseman Mathieu Schneider in a trade and told standout forward Alexei Kovalev to stay home and ponder his poor play, moves that haven't stopped the team's slide. The Canadiens, a powerhouse over the first half of the season, are 3-11-1 in their last 15 games. Kovalev is expected to rejoin their lineup on Saturday against Ottawa.

--Helene Elliott