EIt’s supposed to be a big reunion party. After the North American ice hockey league NHL did not play games overseas for two years due to the corona pandemic, it is now coming back to Europe. First with friendlies in Germany and Switzerland, then the official start of the season between the Nashville Predators and the San José Sharks on October 7th and 8th in the Czech capital Prague.
It’s a tradition, since the 1930s there have been more than 100 appearances by NHL teams outside of North America. But now the sporting part is taking a back seat. As Canada’s Associated Press reports, Russian players are not welcome in Prague because of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine.
request for exclusion
“We can confirm that the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a letter to the NHL to indicate that at this time neither the Czech Republic nor any other state in the Schengen zone should issue visas to Russian players to enter our territory,” said Deputy Secretary of State Martin Smolek told AP. This follows the EU sports ministers, who recommended a ban on Russian athletes at sporting events in the EU.
Dominik Hašek is said to be a driving force behind the announcement by the Czech Foreign Ministry. The former world-class goalkeeper, himself active in North America for 16 years, has been calling for all Russians to be excluded from the NHL for months. The league denied that. Although she broke off her business relations with Russia in response to the war, individual players were exempted from this.
These would represent the NHL and its teams, not Russia, said league chief Gary Bettman. In addition, player advisor Dan Milstein complained of discrimination and death threats against Russian ice hockey stars – although they did not comment on the war at all.
The exception is Washington Capitals striker Alexander Ovechkin, who to this day has a picture of himself and President Vladimir Putin on his Instagram profile. After he had neither distanced himself from Putin nor from the war at a press conference, Hašek attacked him sharply, calling him a “cowardly toady” and a “liar”. Then, in April, Hašek wrote on Twitter: “The NHL game in Prague should be a celebration of world hockey and not an advertisement for Russian crimes in Ukraine.”
In the NHL league office, however, the situation is relaxed. League Vice President Bill Daly said he had “no worries” that Russian players would not be allowed to travel to Prague and play. His luck: there are a maximum of three for the trip anyway – and they are not stars like Owetschkin. For San José’s manager Mike Grier, however, one thing is certain: “We are a team. Either we all play or nobody does.