Vladimir Putin said the Russian government had “nothing to do with” the surprise firing of FBI director James Comey, following up his first public comments on Tuesday night’s shock announcement with a six-goal outburst in a gala hockey match for the Night Hockey League on Wednesday at Sochi’s Bolshoy Ice Dome.
The Russian president finished with 11 points on six goals and five assists in leading his team, a mix of former Olympic and world champions, Russian league veterans and government officials, to a 17-6 victory before a crowd of 10,750 at the five-year-old venue where the hockey competition for the last Winter Olympics took place, according to the Russian Hockey Federation.
Putin was far more prolific on the ice than with his words in a brief pre-game exchange with CBS News foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer, who asked the president how the firing would affect relations between the United States and Russia.
“There will be no effect,” said Putin, whose remarks in Russian were translated by spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “Your question looks very funny for me. Don’t be angry with me. We have nothing to do with that.
“President Trump is acting in accordance with his competence and in accordance with his law and the constitution. And what about us, why we? You see, I am going to play hockey with the hockey fans. And I invite you to do the same.”
And play he did. Putin, wearing his traditional No11 shirt, overcame a spill to the ice shortly after the opening face-off and was directly involved in three of the game’s first four goals as his team opened a 4-0 lead in the first period, assisting to Hall of Fame winger Pavel Bure on the first two before scoring the fourth on assists from Bure and longtime NHL winger Valeri Kamensky. He added a third assist on another feed to Bure, giving his side a 6-1 lead at the first intermission.
The 64-year-old forward kept things rolling after the break, scoring the first two goals of the second period as his team stretched the lead to 8-1, then adding another pair of assists before the session was out to make it 13-3.
That set the stage for Putin’s final-period outburst, a hat trick that saw his team open a 17-3 advantage before three garbage-time goals accounted for the final margin.
Bure finished with seven points (four goals, three assists), ahead of Kamensky’s six (one goal, five assists) and Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defense minister who finished with four goals and no assists for the winners.
Others to participate included former Russian international and Celta de Vigo midfielder Aleksandr Mostovoi and four-times Olympic medalist Evgeni Plushenko, who announced his retirement from competitive figure skating in March. Both failed to make the scoresheet.
It marked Putin’s fifth straight appearance in the gala exhibition for Russia’s NHL, the 45-and-older amateur league which he established in 2011. He’s scored 23 goals in those matches, an average of 4.6 per game.