Russia has almost changed all of its under-18 ice hockey team a day before the team was to depart for the World Championships in North Dakota to prompt questions and confusion over alleged doping.

On Thursday, the coach and all Russia-based players were removed and replaced with a hastily assembled group of under-17s. Profiles of previous players were deleted from the team website. The replaced team of Russia is all likely to struggle to compete with the best under-18 programs in the world. The country now has a roster filled with 16-year-olds, several of whom are under 160 pounds and would find it hard to have a chance against stacked U.S. and Canadian teams.

The under-18 world hockey championship is generally the most important tournament of the year for NHL scouting staffs. The under-18 championship is the best opportunity to see the top of the present year’s draft-eligible players compete against one another, and it is played only two months before the draft. The omission of the under-18 Russian team means some GMs would not have a chance to watch rising Russian stars such as projected top-20 pick German Rubtsov, Artur Kayumov, Dmitri Alexeyev, and Mikhail Maltsev at all this season.

St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong said they are a hard group to see. Armstrong added it definitely hurts their draft ranking from his standpoint and added he has only seen Rubstov once and others zero times. The St. Louis Blues GM said his scouts have seen them, but a late, positive viewing goes a long way and it is human nature.

Bill Armstrong, the Blues director of amateur scouting, said the Russians were tired of getting their ass kicked after they gained only one bronze in the past six tournaments. Bill added that is why they built this team to go and be more competitive at the U-18, giving reference to the Russians trying to emulate the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) by having them play together as a single, centralized elite club all season.

   The Blues director of amateur scouting added they really accomplished two goals, first was that they kept some players in Russia, and they were a more competitive team with their U-18 program. However, this could be the reason behind the entire team getting wiped out. This was primarily because the team members used to train together the entire season and were all on the same diet and supplement regimen that could be the possible cause of how many believed they received the Meldonium.

Local media suggested a link to doping but it was remarked by Russian Hockey Federation president Vladislav Tretiak that this was a tactical decision by the coaching staff and he did not provided further details. Tretiak added the federation had not conducted any informal doping tests of its players that would be a breach of anti-doping rules. It was reported by media that the controversial blood-flow-boosting drug Meldonium was the cause.

The recently-banned substance has already resulted in hundreds of positive tests among high-profile Russian athletes – including tennis star Maria Sharapova – in recent months. Meldonium was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list in January.

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