NHL says Russian players are all set to play first games of season in Czech Republic

Russian players from two NHL teams opening the season in the Czech Republic will finally be allowed to play in both games of the Global Series in Prague.

The Czech government has dropped its bid to ban Russian players on the San Jose and Nashville rosters, NHL Assistant Commissioner Bill Daly said Thursday. The move paves the way for the Sharks and Predators to travel to Europe this weekend for training and exhibition games in Germany and Switzerland, respectively, before facing off at the O2 Arena in Prague on 7 and October 8.

The Czech Foreign Ministry said last week that Russian players would not be allowed to enter the country due to their country’s invasion of Ukraine. Czech officials could not be reached late Thursday. The Czech Republic was one of the first EU countries to stop issuing visas to Russian nationals after the February invasion, with a few exceptions.

Daly had expressed confidence that the two Russians on the team’s rosters would play. Nashville has forward Yakov Trenin and San Jose has Alexander Barabanov, as well as Evgeny Svechnikov, who is in training camp on a trial deal.

The Predators said last week they were told not to expect trouble. The Sharks, from captain Logan Couture to general manager Mike Grier, have taken an all-or-nothing position.

« We’re a team, so if they say some guys can’t go, either we all go or nobody goes, » Grier said. « It’s not the players’ fault. They didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t think they should be punished for this. We’re on their side and we’re all together here. »

The NHL never considered banning the Russians, many of whom are among the most talented hockey players in the world. Commissioner Gary Bettman told the AP over the spring that the Russians « play in the NHL for their NHL team for the NHL fans. »

The league has banned Stanley Cup-winning players from going to Russia or closely allied Belarus this summer. Valeri Nichushkin was the only Russian player for the Cup-champion Colorado Avalanche.

The NHL returns to Europe for its first games outside North America since 2019. After the two games in Prague, the Avalanche and the Columbus Blue Jackets will play twice in Tampere, Finland, on the 4th and November 5.

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