Feds tell Canadian hockey players from KHL teams in Russia and Belarus to get out

The Canadians continue to play hockey for the Continental Hockey League teams in Russia and Belarus despite the Canadian government’s warning to leave those countries.

The 48 Canadian players currently on KHL club rosters this season are the most of any country outside of Russia.

Forty-four play for clubs within Russian and Belarusian borders, the other four in Kazakhstan.

Russia, with Belarus as its supporter, invaded Ukraine on February 24.

Canada has been firmly on Ukraine’s side in the conflict with $626 million in military aid and more than $320 million in humanitarian aid since February, as well as imposing financial sanctions on Russia and Belarus. .

“President (Vladimir) Putin’s war in Ukraine is a war against freedom, against democracy and against the rights of Ukrainians, and all peoples, to determine their own future,” wrote Adrien Blanchard, press officer of Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, in a statement emailed to The Canadian Press.

“As Canadians, these are values ​​that we hold dear. Athletes who decide to play and partner with Russia and Belarus should explain their decisions to the public.

Alberta-based players’ agent Ritchie Winter, who has three clients in the KHL, says players have the right to earn a living in their profession like other Canadians working in foreign countries.

“We live in a world where individuals are allowed to make these decisions. It’s just an individual decision related to a job opportunity,” Winter said. “Was every player who walked away, pushed and pulled and pulled and struggled with the decision? Yeah, absolutely.

“At the end of the day, they are husbands and fathers who have responsibilities to their families. If you are a young family with limited resources because you played mostly in the minors, there is a desire to take care of your family.

“Sometimes it leads people to the oilfields of Kazakhstan and sometimes it leads them to the KHL.”

Travel warnings to avoid travel to Russia and Belarus were issued on March 5 and February 24 respectively, Global Affairs Canada told The Canadian Press in a statement.

“Our government has been very clear. Canadians should avoid all travel to Russia and Belarus,” Blanchard said. “If they are in Russia or Belarus, they should leave now. Our ability to provide consular services could become extremely limited.

Dozens of Canadians play each year in men’s professional leagues across Europe. A top KHL player can earn over $1 million a year in salary.

The Canadian Press has sent a message to nine Canadian KHL players asking what assurances they have received from the league and their teams regarding their personal safety. None responded.

“There were a number of players caught in the crosshairs last year when all of this happened. They stayed and saw no risk,” Winter said.

“From what the players tell me, the environment hasn’t changed from what it (was) before. A lot of them balanced that risk and decided they would play there. .

He also knows players who have turned down opportunities to play in the KHL this season.

“Everyone has a different risk profile,” he said. “I’ve had clients from Canada and the United States turn down huge amounts of money compared to what they would earn here.”

There were 53 Canadians in the KHL last season. Seven played for Riga Dynamo of Latvia, which together with Jokerit Helsinki of Finland withdrew from the league.

“What I obviously don’t support is the war that’s going on,” said forward Jake Virtanen, who is on a trial contract with the Oilers after playing 36 games for Spartak Moscow last season. .

“That was one of the main reasons why I left. It’s a difficult situation. I, personally, wouldn’t go back because of that.

The United States, a supporter of Ukraine, is embroiled in a diplomatic row with Russia over a professional athlete.

WNBA star Brittney Griner, who plays professional basketball for Yekaterinburg in the offseason, was sentenced Aug. 4 to nine years in prison for drug possession.

When she arrived in Moscow on February 17, police said they found vaping cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

Winter says Russians playing in the NHL are deterring a potential retaliatory detention of a Canadian player for Canada’s support of Ukraine, but a McGill political science associate professor says the risk exists.

“Russia has no rule of law, so anyone in Russia is always at risk of being framed, incarcerated, used as a pawn in whatever local government, central government, etc. . decide to do,” said Maria Popova.

The risk of a Canadian hockey player being detained by local, state or central governments is low to moderate, “but there is a risk,” she said. “I think something like what happened to Brittney Griner is possible. The same playbook can be repeated in a case against a Canadian player for sure.

“I don’t see why Russia would try to use these people as a pawn because Canada is not Russia’s main problem in this war,” Popova continued.

“There is no real hope that Russia can change Canadian policy in Ukraine. They know that Canada is a firm member of NATO, clearly supporting Ukraine.

Goaltender Andrew Hammond is the most recent Canadian to sign with a KHL club. He joined Chelyabinsk Traktor on September 16.

Craig Woodcroft, the brother of Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft, coaches the KHL team from Minsk in Belarus.

“With what’s going on in the world, obviously we’re paying attention to it,” Jay Woodcroft said.

“My brother is in Belarus, so it’s not the big Russian continent, but they play in this league. He has carved out a great career there at the top level in the KHL.“

Seven KHL Canadians wore the Maple Leaf at the Beijing Olympics in February just before Russia invaded Ukraine, including goaltender Ed Pasquale (Metallurg Magnitogorsk) and forwards Corban Knight (Avangard Omsk ) and Josh Ho-Sang (Salavat Yulaev).

“With files from Steven Sandor in Edmonton.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 28, 2022.