Czech government: Russian NHL players not wanted in Prague

Prague, Czech Republic –

NHL teams playing in the Czech capital next month have been told their Russian players are not welcome.

The Czech Foreign Ministry has informed the NHL of its position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The ministry declined to say whether the NHL has responded.

The Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks will play regular season games on October 7th and 8th at Prague’s O2 Arena. Travel plans are ongoing, but Nashville has forward Yakov Trenin and San Jose has forward Evgeny Svechnikov. Defender Nikolai Knyzhov will not be available for the Sharks due to injury.

“We can confirm that the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent a letter to the NHL to indicate that the Czech Republic or any other state in the Schengen (visa-free) zone should not currently issue entry visas for Russian players entering our territory,” said Deputy Foreign Secretary Martin Smolek in a statement.

The ministry added that it had informed the League “of ongoing negotiations on an entry ban for those citizens of the Russian Federation who had previously obtained valid visas.”

The ministry said a ban on Russian athletes at sporting events in European Union countries had also been recommended by EU sports ministers.

The Czech Republic was one of the first EU countries to stop issuing visas to Russian nationals after invading Ukraine in February. Exceptions are humanitarian cases and people persecuted by the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The NHL is returning to Europe for its first games outside of North America since the pandemic began.

In addition to the two games in Prague, the Colorado Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets will play two more games on November 4th and 5th in Tampere, Finland. The Finnish government’s position towards Russian players was not immediately clear.

Czech NHL legend Dominik Hasek has led opposition to Russian players coming to Prague since the games were announced in April. Hasek addressed the upper house of parliament, the senate, the government and the foreign ministry in this regard.

“It is very important for the support of our Ukrainian ally and the safety of our citizens,” Hasek said in an interview for a Russian channel. After it failed to air in Russia, he released it in Czech media.

“Yes, we don’t want to promote Russian aggression here,” Hasek posted on Twitter after the ministry’s move. “We protect our lives and the lives of our allies first and foremost.”