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NHL

Russian players are now OK to travel and play in Prague, NHL says

Alexander Barabanov is one of the two Russians on the Sharks' roster.Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

Russian players on two NHL teams opening the season in the Czech Republic will be allowed to participate in the two Global Series games in Prague after all.

The Czech government has dropped its attempted ban of Russian players on the rosters for San Jose and Nashville, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Thursday. The move paves the way for the Sharks and Predators to travel to Europe this weekend for practices and exhibition games in Germany and Switzerland, respectively, before facing off at Prague’s O2 Arena Oct. 7 and 8.

The Czech Foreign Ministry last week said Russian players would not be granted entry into the country because of their nation'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 following the February invasion, with some exceptions.

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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, along with Evgeny Svechnikov, who is in training camp on a tryout agreement.

The Predators said last week they were told not to expect any issues. The Sharks, from captain Logan Couture to general manager Mike Grier, took an all-or-nothing stance.

“We’re a team, so if they say some guys can’t go, either we all go or no one goes,” said Grier, the former Boston University standout and longtime NHL player in his first season as Sharks GM . “It’s not the players’ fault. They didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t think they should be punished for it. We stand with them, and we’re all together as one in here.”

The NHL has never considered banning Russians, many of whom are some of the most skilled hockey players in the world. Commissioner Gary Bettman told The AP during the spring Russians “are performing in the NHL for their NHL team for NHL fans.”

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The league did bar players from taking the Stanley Cup to Russia or closely allied Belarus this summer. Valeri Nichushkin was the only Russian player on the Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.

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