SAN JOSE – The NHL and the San Jose Sharks feel they will be adequately prepared from a security standpoint should any tensions arise from possible Russian player participation in the league’s Global Series games in the Czech Republic next weekend.
Czech government officials have recently stated that Russian hockey players, given their country’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, would not be welcomed to their homeland for the Oct. 7 and 8 games between the Sharks and Nashville Predators at O2 Arena in Prague.
The NHL, though, has said it does not anticipate any problems for Russian players entering the country and adds it has spent the last several months planning for all facets of the overseas trip, including the safety of both teams.
“While we won’t get into specifics, and as we do with all League events, the NHL’s and Sharks’ security teams have been working closely together for months on the planning for all aspects of the team’s trip.” Gary Meagher, the NHL’s executive vice president, communications, said in a statement to this news organization.
“Both the League and Sharks security teams will be on-site for the duration of the trip and will work closely with local authorities.”
The Czech Foreign Ministry recently sent a letter to the NHL that said the country “or any other state in the (visa-free) Schengen zone should not issue visas to the Russian players to enter our territory.” Sharks general manager Mike Grier responded last week, saying the team won’t enter the Czech Republic if it is not allowed to bring a full complement of players.
That includes Russian-born forward Alexander Barabanov, who will be on the Sharks’ flight to Europe on Saturday, coach David Quinn said. Barabanov was the Sharks’ fifth-leading scorer last season with 39 points and is projected to start the year on the team’s top line with Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier.
Barabanov is still considered day-to-day with a lower-body injury he suffered Saturday prior to a scheduled team scrimmage, and it is unclear when he will skate again, but he will be on the trip. The Sharks play an exhibition game in Berlin on Oct. 4 before they travel to Prague.
“Until we’re told we’re not going, we’re going,” Quinn said. “I know they continue to talk about that and as of right now, we’re still going.”
It’s unclear if the NHL is bolstering security for this European trip compared to ones in previous seasons. The NHL has played regular-season games outside of North America several times over the last 15 years, including every year from 2017 to 2019.
“Once we get out there, I don’t think there will be any issues at all,” said Sharks winger Matt Nieto, who was with the Colorado Avalanche when they played games in Stockholm against the Ottawa Senators in Nov. 2017. “We’re all hopeful that (the Russian players) can go and play. (Barabanov) is obviously a big part of our team and we want to have him there playing with us.
“I think once we get out there, everything’s kind of going to be fine.”
Those games last decade, though, weren’t played with a nearby war going on that involved the former Soviet Union, which occupied what was previously known as Czechoslovakia for 23 years. With those hostilities still not forgotten, the Czech Republic has supported Ukraine in its fight with Russia.
“If there are security concerns, then we won’t go,” Quinn said. “I know if we’re going then I know that the National Hockey League and the San Jose Sharks will put everybody in a safe position.”