Let’s keep CHL imports out of crossfire in tensions with Russia

Darren Steinke

Special to the Herald

Due to the war between Russia and Ukraine, what will be the fate of Russian and Belarusian players skating at the moment in the Canadian Hockey League?

That question will hopefully clear up in the coming days, weeks and possibly months.

The war between Russia and Ukraine was an issue Russian and Belarusian players in the CHL never saw coming at the start of the 2021-22 season. When the season started, the biggest concern was navigating the differing and changing restrictions regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

A lot of imports playing in the CHL elected to spend their Christmas breaks in North America instead of going home including the Prince Albert Raiders two Belarusian players in Tikhon Chaika and Vladislav Shilo.

About a week ago, Russia began its invasion of Ukraine and war resulted as Ukraine continues to put up a fierce defence.

Various sanctions have been imposed in the political world and the sports world.

On Monday, the International Ice Hockey Federation kicked all Russian and Belarusian national teams and clubs from its competitions until further notice. The IIHF stripped Russia as host of the world juniors that were to be held this coming December and January in Saint Petersburg.

Belarus was kicked out for allowing Russian forces to travel through Belarusian territory to invade Ukraine.

Hockey Canada issued a release on Monday condemning the Russian attack and said it supports the IIHF decision. Hockey Canada also stated it won’t allow the participation of teams from Russia and Belarus in events held in Canada that don’t fall under the IIHF’s jurisdiction.

At the NHL level, there have been calls for contracts with Russian players to be suspended most notably by Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Dominik Hasek, who is from the Czech Republic. There have been fans phoning into sports talk shows mirroring Hasek’s sentiment.

On Monday, the NHL did suspend its ties with Russian business partners.

On the CHL front, the OHL was the first of the three member leagues including the WHL and QMJHL to issue a statement. On Tuesday, the OHL condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and supported the measure brought in by the IIHF and Hockey Canada.

The OHL statement added, “The OHL remains in communication with its member teams, monitoring the well-being of all players and especially those European players originating from countries directly impacted by the conflict. These young student-athletes have the full support of the Ontario Hockey League as they continue to represent their respective teams, regardless of their country of origin.”

On Monday, Jeff Marek of Sportsnet reported the CHL will hold an executive call Wednesday to discuss the Russian situation.

For Russian and Belarusian players currently playing in the CHL, they should be allowed to play out the rest of the 2021-22 campaign in the short term. They came to the CHL to pursue hockey dreams of making the NHL, and all the decisions made regarding the war between Russia and Ukraine are way above their heads.

At the start of the season last October, most people in the world didn’t imagine Russia would invade Ukraine.

The Russian and Belarusian players in the CHL aren’t professionals making millions of dollars. In the grand scheme of things, they are just starting out in life.

They aren’t Washington Capitals superstar captain Alexander Ovechkin, who is getting hammered for his links to Russian president Vladimir Putin and for not taking a tougher stance against the Russian invasion. You could easily spend an afternoon doing an online search to check out all the heat Ovechkin is getting.

When the 2021-22 campaign is complete, the fate of Russian and Belarusian players in the CHL is uncertain. It is possible they might not be able to get home, even if they wanted to return home.

It would be hard for any team to take any Russians or Belarusians in the next CHL Import Draft, because there is no certainty they could come to North America. It is possible a decision could be made to ban the selection of Russians and Belarusians in the next Import Draft.

In the present, the Russian and Belarusian players that are already in the CHL should be supported by the teams and communities they play in. The only certainty they have right now in life is preparing for the next hockey game as the sports still provides daily structure.

Ultimately, they are not the enemy, are still teenagers, are far from home and no one envisioned they would be put in this spot.

Blades’ Maier chases career win record

On a more cheerful note, Saskatoon Blades overage netminder Nolan Maier is in striking distance of breaking the WHL record for career regular season goaltending wins.

On Sunday, Maier picked up his 115th career win when the Blades downed the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors 4-2 at the SaskTel Centre. He is five wins away from equaling the WHL record for career regular season victories.

The record of 120 wins is held jointly by Corey Hirsch and Tyson Sexsmith.

Hirsch picked up his 120 victories playing four seasons with the Kamloops Blazers from 1988 to 1992. Sexsmith collected his 120 wins over five seasons with the Vancouver Giants from 2004 to 2009. He also had one non-decision relief appearance as a loaned out player to the Medicine Hat Tigers late in the 2004-05 campaign.

The Blades have 18 games remaining on their regular season schedule, so Maier has a pretty good chance of breaking that record.

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