Former student: Ivan Pravilov used fists and hockey sticks to beat us

A former student of youth hockey coach Ivan Pravilov claims in a new book that the coach physically abused members of the Ukrainian youth hockey team Druzhba-78.

Pravilov is being held in a U.S. detention center in Philadelphia on charges that he physically and sexually abused a 14-year-old boy on Jan. 3 in a Mt. Airy apartment. Interpol also has a warrant out for his arrest stemming from a 2007 assault in the Ukraine.

Maxim Starchenko talked to NewsWorks Friday from his suburban Detroit home. His experience under Pravilov is detailed in “Behind the Iron Curtain: Tears in the Perfect Hockey GULAG,” which was published in December.

He says his book’s release and Pravilov’s arrest are coincidental.

“This was really a shock to me,” Starchenko said about the arrest in Philadelphia. But he said the allegations are not a surprise.

In his book, Starchenko recounts a time when he claims Pravilov began pressuring him for a kiss. He writes that Pravilov singled him out on the team bus and said, “Do you love me very, very much?” The coach continued the pressure, Starchenko recounted, saying, “Are you going to prove to me that you love me or not.”

Starchenko said he would not call Pravilov a good coach.

“It’s not what he taught us; it’s how he taught us,” Starchenko said. “I would never give him credit as a good coach because a coach is not the one who only teaches what to do he also knows how to teach kids and makes them enjoy the game. This guy is the complete opposite.”

In the book, Starchenko says Pravilov took advantage of having complete control over so many boys who were away from home for months at a time. To instill discipline, Starchenko alleges that the coach would often swing his fists or a hockey stick, using the player’s bodies as “punching and hitting bags.”

One of Starchenko’s former teammates is former Philadelphia Flyers player and current New Jersey Devil Dainius Zubrus.

After learning Pravilov was arrested, Zubrus told the Newark Star-Ledger newspaper, “I never thought in my head he’d (Ivan Pravilov) ever be accused of something like that.”

Starchenko claims that Zubrus was also tormented by Pravilov.

“I have lost all respect for that guy [Dainius Zubrus]. He got a very similar treatment from him as well,” said Starchenko, “He is making a fool out of himself.”

Starchenko predicted that other Druzhba-78 players may now come forward with accounts of abuse by Pravilov.

His book details what he describes as cruel training methods. To develop his players’ toughness, Starchenko writes, Pravilov would force two players to skate at full speed at one another resulting in a violent collision and then telling them to repeat the “collision drill” multiple times.

After one loss, writes Starchenko, Pravilov went into a rage in the locker room that resulted in one player being tossed around like a rag doll:

“As the player flew by me, he lost his balance and fell on the floor. Ivan rushed toward him immediately, grabbing the player by his shoulders and pulling him up onto his skates. That was followed by another throw, only this time the player connected with the wall next to me.”

Starchenko said he thinks Pravilov got away with abusing kids for so long that he must have felt invincible.

Pravilov remains in federal custody in Philadelphia pending the outcome of a hearing schedule Fri, Jan 27.

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