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Sharks push back on potential Czech conflict for Russian players

Mar 31, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; San Jose Sharks left wing Alexander Barabanov (94) controls the puck in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

New San Jose Sharks general manager Mike Grier said his team won’t play two regular-season games in Prague next month if the Czech Republic government bans the entry of Russian players.

“We’re a team, so if they say some guys can’t go over, then either we all go or no one goes,” Grier told reporters Thursday. “But I’m not anticipating any issues right now.”

The Sharks and Nashville Predators are scheduled to open the 2022-23 regular season at O2 Arena with consecutive games on Oct. 7 and 8. It is the first time the NHL will hold regular-season games outside North America since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But due to the ongoing war in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion earlier this year, Russian-born athletes have been either banned or not allowed to play under the country’s flag, most notably when Wimbledon disallowed players from Russia and Belarus this year.

“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,” Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Smolek said in a statement to the Associated Press.

The Sharks currently have two Russian players likely to make their NHL roster: forwards Alexander Barabanov and Evgeny Svechnikov. The Predators have forward Yakov Trenin.

Before the games in Prague, the Sharks are scheduled to play an exhibition game in Berlin on Oct. 4 as part of the NHL Global Series. To this point, Germany has yet to make a similar declaration about allowing Russian players into the country.

“I don’t know how it would go as far as forfeits and things like that. That’s something for the league to handle,” Grier said. “But I’m a pretty firm believer (that) 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.

“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.”

The Predators released a statement, saying, “We understand the league is handling this matter and we have been told that it does not expect there will be any issues with Russian players traveling to or playing in the Global Series games.”

–Field Level Media

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