The San Jose Sharks are closing ranks around their Russian teammates.
Yesterday, GM Mike Grier ignited something of an international incident when he declared, of the proposed Czech ban of Russian NHL players from the Sharks’ upcoming season-opening games in Prague, “Either we all go, or no one goes.”
The Sharks’ Czech players, Tomas Hertl and Radim Simek, left no doubt of their immediate loyalties.
“We stand behind the team, and especially Barbie,” Hertl said of Russian linemate Alexander Barabanov. “I played a lot of hockey with him last year and he’s a great guy. It’s a tough situation. It’s not the players’ mistake and he shouldn’t be punished for it. He’s one of the nicest guys ever.”
Simek echoed his countryman: “I support [Grier’s statement], for sure. If Barbie stays here, our whole team should stay here.
“I don’t agree with the war. But Barbie isn’t part of the war.”
It’s a complicated situation, but the San Jose Sharks know where they stand.
To the condemnation of most in the international community, Russian president Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in Feb. 2022 and is still waging war there.
Against this backdrop, San Jose and Nashville are set to kick off the NHL’s regular season on Oct. 7 and 8 at O2 Arena in Prague.
There have been sanctions on Russian athletes all over the sports world because of Putin’s war. In hockey, for example, the CHL banned Russian and Belarusian players from their most recent import draft.
The NHL has also suspended business partnerships in Russia and has publicly condemned the war too.
But it’s clear that the league doesn’t see a handful of Russian NHL players playing in Prague on quite the same level.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press that he has “no concern” about Russian NHL players being able to participate in the Oct. 7 and 8 contests.
He added in a text to San Jose Hockey Now: “Everyone who needs visas already has them.”
So the campaign to ban Russian NHL’ers from the Czech leg of the Global Series may be a moot point.
But it’s already had an effect on the San Jose Sharks’ locker room, as little a thing as that may be in the big picture.
Evgeny Svechnikov, who’s just signed with the Sharks, wasn’t aware of Grier’s statement yesterday.
“I love it. Makes you feel amazing,” the clearly-moved Russian winger shared. “It makes you feel like part of the team.”
Hertl noted: “It’s been a tough three years without the playoffs, so first thing, we have to have everybody’s back. Help each other, no matter if it’s a staff member, player, we just have to stick together.”
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