NHL team backs Russians in Euro tour row
The Czech Foreign Ministry signaled that Russian hockey players would not be welcome when NHL teams travel to Prague
The general manager of NHL team the San Jose Sharks has suggested that the franchise could boycott two games planned for Prague next month if Czech officials don’t allow the team’s Russian players into the country.
The Sharks are due to open the new NHL season with games against the Nashville Predators in Prague’s O2 Arena on October 7 and 8, as part of the league’s 2022 Global Series.
Both organizations have Russian players on their rosters, although ahead of the series the Czech government contacted the NHL to point out its ban on issuing visas for Russian citizens because of the conflict in Ukraine.
San Jose boss Grier said he was not anticipating problems for the likes of star winger Alexander Barabanov, but stressed team solidarity if the 28-year-old was prevented from playing on the tour.
“We’re a team, so, if they say some guys can’t go over then, either we all go or no one goes,” Grier said, according to Sharks reporter Curtis Pashelka.
“I’m a pretty firm believer we’re a team here, we’re a group, and it’s not the players’ fault. They didn’t do anything wrong. So I don’t think they should be punished for it,” he added, noting that the league would have to deal with a potential forfeit in the event that Russian players were banned.
“We stand with them and we’re all together as one in here. If it comes to that and hopefully it doesn’t – and I’m not anticipating that it will – we’ll do things as a group.”
Among the figures in Czech sport to be particularly vocal in their criticism of Russia amid the conflict in Ukraine is two-time Stanley Cup winner Dominik Hasek.
The iconic goaltender has even called on the NHL to suspend all its Russian players, meaning the likes of Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin would be sidelined among dozens of others.
The NHL suspended its agreement with the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and other business partners in the country back in March, but has shown no appetite to impose any kind of sanctions on Russian players who feature in the elite North American league.
However, hockey has become a particular sporting battleground for some European countries in their sanctions towards Russia.
Nations such as the Czech Republic, Latvia, Sweden and Finland have all said any players who compete in the KHL will no longer be considered for national team selection.
Former KHL teams Jokerit, who are based in Helsinki, and Dinamo Riga from the Latvian capital both withdrew from the league towards the end of last season.