- Associated Press - Friday, January 7, 2011

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (AP) - Russia’s junior hockey team arrived at Buffalo Niagara International Airport with a police escort, and prepared to depart with a sobering message following an over-exuberant, headline-grabbing, extended stay.

“I feel better,” forward Yevgeni Kuznetsov repeated with a smile Friday morning.

The Russians are leaving! The Russians are leaving!

One day after being removed from their flight for being unruly, the 30-or-so members of the World Junior Hockey Championship gold medal-winning Russian contingent were in an upbeat mood and eager to finally return home.

“Very happy,” Mikhail Zislis, the team’s media officer said. “Everybody is waiting for us in Russia.”

They’re scheduled to arrive in Moscow on Saturday. That’s a day later than scheduled, and they’ll be traveling in two groups _ one through New York City and another through Atlanta.

Airport spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer said he was informed of no trouble regarding the Russian travelers. He added the flight to New York left on time, and the flight to Atlanta was also scheduled to leave on time later in the day.

The change in itinerary became necessary after Russia’s original travel plans were undone by a long night of celebration that followed a stunning 5-3 comeback win over Canada in the title game Wednesday.

Some five hours after their win, the Russians arrived at the airport in time for a 6:10 a.m. flight, but were turned back by the flight crew for what a Delta Air Lines official described as “unruly behavior.”

Airport police Lt. James Bittner told The Associated Press on Friday that the team was rowdy upon arriving for check in, but had calmed down when passing through security. Bittner said players once again became rowdy upon boarding the plane.

Bittner also said one player had vomited, and was treated by medical officials at the airport before being cleared to board the flight.

Canadian Press video shows elated players whooping it up at a hotel bar following their victory.

The team’s bus driver, Curtis Hall, told The Buffalo News that the Russians “were definitely intoxicated,” and some players were so drunk they had to be carried onto the bus before leaving for the airport.

Zislis has disputed the reports, saying players were not intoxicated, and that they drank only champagne in the locker room following the victory. He accused Delta of overreacting for forcing the team off the plane. Zislis also said he was unaware of any player vomiting.

It was a completely different picture on Friday.

Upbeat and jovial, and with a few chants of “We are champions,” the Russian contingent arrived in four separate shuttles and efficiently unloaded their luggage and equipment before checking in. Players signed autographs, posed for pictures with curious onlookers, and flashed their gold medals. A few also playfully used their cell phones to take pictures of a television camerawoman as she was videotaping them.

Digital message boards around the airport greeted the team by congratulating their victory.

All members of the Russian contingent had cleared security by 8:30 a.m., about an hour after they had arrived.

Shortly after checking in, Kuznetsov took out a wad of gum he was chewing and missed in his attempt to throw it into a garbage container 10 feet away.

Kuznetsov then picked up the gum and, with a big wink, deposited it before heading toward security and a long, welcome, trip home.

___

Associated Press Writer Carolyn Thompson contributed to this report.

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