Hockey player defends signing for Russian team despite national ban
Latvian goaltender Janis Kalnins is set to be banned from his country's national ice hockey team after signing a contract with Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) club Amur Khabarovsk, and has stated that he made the decision for his family's sake in the twilight of his career.
Amur announced its agreement with 30-year-old Kalnins on Wednesday, with the player accepting that it was an "unpopular decision" to Latvian media but one that was made realistically as he might not have long to spare at the top level.
"It was the best option for my family and for my life after hockey," Kalnins explained to Sportacentrs.
"I am a grown man and I am aware of the reaction that people can have and how the media will twist it. We each live our lives and make decisions that are best for ourselves and our family."
Kalnins' bold move comes amid a controversy surrounding compatriot Miks Indrasis, who reportedly signed a one-year contract with Spartak Moscow.
Upon news of the transfer, the secretary general of the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation, Roberts Pluzejs, suggested that the forward would no longer be invited to the national team.
This week, however, Indrasis took to social media and wrote that the information published by Spartak Moscow about him joining the club "is not true".
"I have no valid contract with this club!" the player claimed.
"Quite the opposite – I have an existing contract with another team. Spartak is unhappy with my refusal to play in Russia, so this is their behavior!"
The Latvian parliament handed down a ban in April that prevents Latvian teams such as Dinamo Riga from competing in the KHL and which said that individuals who sign deals for clubs in Russia will not be allowed to play for the national team.
Indrasis stressed that he is a "Latvian patriot" whose "attitude to my country has always been expressed in the [sports arena], wearing the shirt in nine consecutive World Championships!”
Reacting to Indrasis' claims, Spartak have suggested the matter will be settled by their legal team as they say they have a valid contract with the player which was "signed in accordance with the regulations and registered with the KHL Central Information Bureau".
"All KHL contracts are recognized by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and must be executed. The question of the current contract between Spartak and Miks Indrasis will be decided in the legal field, and not in the public space," they insisted in a statement.
"If the player decides not to fulfill the terms of the contract, he must pay compensation to the club in accordance with the KHL regulations," Spartak added.
Spending the end of last season at EHC Biel in Switzerland, Indrasis has previously played for other Russian teams including Dynamo Moscow, Vityaz, and Admiral Vladivostok.
As for Kalnins, he has played for Dinamo Riga in the KHL but also spent time in Finland and Sweden, where his last club and reigning SHL champions Vaxjo Lakers are based.
Due to his move to Russia, an appearance at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing could be the last time Kalnins represents his country.
Along with Latvia, the hockey authorities in Sweden and Finland have also said players who choose to appear in Russia will not be considered for national team duty.