Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Czech government told the NHL that Russian players were not welcome for the Prague series. CBC Sports

The war in Ukraine threw a wrinkle in the National Hockey League’s planned return to Europe next month to play its first game outside North America since the start of the pandemic.

The Czech Foreign Ministry told two NHL teams to open their season in Prague that no Russian players would be welcome because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It may not amount to an outright ban and league officials have downplayed the potential impact, but it has added a layer of uncertainty to a global series that the NHL is proud of.

The Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks are set to play regular season games at Prague’s O2 Arena on October 7 and 8, aiming to feature the world’s top players, primarily in Europe. There aren’t many Russians on the two rosters: Nashville has forward Yakov Trainin and San Jose has Alexander Barbanov as well as Evgeny Svechnikov, who is in training camp on a tryout deal.

“We can confirm that the Czech Foreign Ministry has sent a letter to the NHL to inform that, at this time, in the Czech Republic or any other state [visa free] The Schengen zone should not issue visas to Russian players to enter our territory,” Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Smolek said in a statement.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Associated Press on Thursday he had “no concerns” from players either traveling to Prague or suiting up to pick up the ice. Neither the Daily nor the ministry would say if the league responded to the letter.

Agent Shumi Babaev, who represents Trenin, echoed Daly’s sentiment that he had no problem. Agent Dan Milstein, who represents Barbanov and Svechnikov, declined to comment.

“We’re a team, so if they say some people can’t go, either we all go or nobody goes,” said San Jose general manager Mike Grier. “We are a group. It’s not the players’ fault. They didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t think they should be punished for it. We stand with them, and we are all here together.”

While the Predators touted the league, Sharks captain Logan Couture echoed Grier.

“My view is that we are a team here and if we go there, we want everyone on our team to be there,” Couture said. “Everyone who makes up the team is part of our team.”

NHL never considered a ban

The ministry said it informed the league about “ongoing negotiations regarding a ban on the entry of citizens of the Russian Federation who had already received valid visas.” One wrinkle includes passports from other countries or visas issued by other European countries.

The Czech ministry said the ban on Russian athletes at sporting events in EU countries had also been recommended by EU sports ministers.

The Czech Republic was one of the first EU countries to stop issuing visas to Russian citizens after the February invasion of Ukraine. Exceptions include humanitarian matters and those persecuted by the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The NHL never considered banning the Russians, many of whom are some of the most skilled hockey players in the world. Commissioner Gary Bateman told the AP during the spring that the Russians “have been performing for their NHL team in the NHL for NHL fans.”

The league barred players from traveling to Russia or close ally Belarus this summer to take the Stanley Cup because of their role in the invasion of Ukraine. Valery Nichushkin was the only Russian player on the Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.

Europe’s first game before the pandemic

The NHL is returning to Europe for its first games outside North America since 2019. After two games in Prague, the Avalanche and the Columbus Blue Jackets will play twice in Tampere, Finland on 4–5 November. The Finnish government’s position on Russian players was not immediately clear.

Czech NHL great Dominic Hasek has led a protest against Russian players coming to Prague since the games were announced in April. Hasek contacted the upper house of parliament, the Senate, the government and the foreign ministry about the issue.

“It is very important to support our Ukrainian ally and protect our citizens,” Hasek said in an interview for a Russian broadcaster. After it was not broadcast in Russia, he published it in the Czech media.

“Yes, we don’t want to promote Russian aggression here,” Hasek posted on Twitter after the ministry’s move. “We are first protecting our lives and the lives of our partners.”

In Washington, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, who is Russian, was asked Thursday about the latest developments in the war, including protests in his home country.

Ovechkin, who had previously supported Russian President Vladimir Putin but also expressed his general desire for peace once the war broke out, said he would need to find out more, adding, “We’ll see what’s going to happen. “

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