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22 Sep, 2022 15:42

Russian hockey stars ‘not welcome’ in EU country for NHL tour

The Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks are set to play a regular season hockey game in the Czech capital next month
Russian hockey stars ‘not welcome’ in EU country for NHL tour

The Czech Foreign Ministry has made it clear to the NHL that Russian players are not welcome in Prague next month.

The Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks are scheduled to play two regular season games at the Czech capital’s O2 Arena on October 7 and 8.

Though defenseman Nikolai Knyzhov won’t be available for the Sharks, they also boast Russian forward Evgeny Svechnikov and Alexander Barabanov, while Nashville has compatriots Yakov Trenin and Egor Afanasyev on its books.

As communicated in a statement by Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Smolek, and shared by the AP, the players would be an unwanted part of the NHL’s trip to his country. 

“We can confirm that the Czech Foreign Ministry has sent a letter to the NHL to point out that, at this moment, the Czech Republic or any other state in the (visa free) Schengen zone should not issue visas to the Russian players to enter our territory,” Smolek said. 

The ministry added that the elite North American hockey league had been told of “ongoing negotiations about banning entry for those citizens of the Russian Federation who already had received valid visas before.”

The letter comes after legendary former goaltender and two-time Stanley Cup winner Dominik Hasek began calls to ban Russian players from heading to Prague when the games were announced in April.

Hasek personally approached the Czech government, parliament, senate and foreign ministry and said that the move was “very important for the support of our Ukrainian ally and safety of our citizens,” in an interview with a Russian broadcaster that wasn’t aired but later published in the Czech media. 

“Yes, we don’t want any promotion of the Russian aggression here,” Hasek tweeted when praising the ministry’s move. 

“We’re guarding our lives and the lives of our allies in the first place,” he claimed.

Hasek and the ministry’s stance should perhaps not come as a surprise considering Hasek demanded that the NHL “must immediately suspend contracts for all Russian players” on February 26 at the start of the military operation in Ukraine.

“Every athlete represents not only himself and his club, but also his country and its values and actions. That is a fact. If the NHL does not do so, it has indirect co-responsibility for the dead in Ukraine,” Hasek went on.

Furthermore, the Czech Republic was among the first EU countries to stop issuing visas to Russians. 

According to Russian media, however, the NHL does not expect any legal obstacles for Russian players to feature in the Prague games. 

“If they arise, the league will not play the scheduled matches in the Czech Republic and the clubs will play at home. The clubs are all set,” a source told RIA Novosti.

The two games in Prague mark the first time that the NHL has headed to the EU since the pandemic. In addition, hockey hotbed Tampere in Finland will also receive the Colorado Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets for a pair of meetings on November 4 and 5. 

Reigning Stanley Cup champions the Colorado Avalanche have Alexandar Georgiev, Mikhail Maltsev, and Valeri Nichushkin in their squad, and the Blue Jackets can usually count on the talents of Yegor Chinakhov, Vladislav Gavrikov, and Daniil Tarasov, although the latter is currently injured.

While the Finnish government’s stance on receiving the Russian players is unclear, Finland’s hockey chiefs have previously said they will to freeze out any players that feature in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) from the national team alongside Sweden.