Sport KHL's Olympic power play could further deplete U.S., Canada talent pool

00:26  05 november  2017
00:26  05 november  2017 Source:   Sporting News

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a man wearing a suit and tie: Dmitry Chernyshenko © (Getty Images) Dmitry Chernyshenko

Outside the NHL, Russia's Kontinental Hockey League includes the most robust assortment of talent in the world. And after the NHL's stalemate with the International Olympic Committee meant none of its players would play in the Pyeongchang Olympics, the KHL would serve as the best remaining resource for selection committees.

Now, it's a little less certain.

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On Saturday, the KHL suggested it would consider withdrawing players from the 2018 Winter Games in a protest of the IOC's ongoing investigations into Russian athletes from other sports suspected of using banned substances before or during the 2014 Games in Sochi.

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"At a recent meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, President [Vladimir] Putin stressed that the IOC is forcing Russia to either participate under a neutral flag or to not participate in the Olympic Games at all," KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko said in a statement. "Any of these two outcomes will no doubt negatively impact the Olympic Movement.

"(The) KHL since its founding days follows the rules of the IIHF and WADA and does not tolerate doping. However, we do not understand why the IOC bases its decision to remove athletes on the reports of informers and commissions, but not the real facts confirming the use of doping? At the same time, the IOC was unable to agree with the NHL on its participation in the Games, and this league is not controlled by either IIHF or WADA.

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"It also seems that the participation of the North American League in the Olympics depends only on their own wishes, and not on the success of the negotiations.

"(The) KHL is ready to respond accordingly. IOC's current outlook is destroying the existing sports world order."

Such a decision would have far-reaching effects on an already depleted men's ice hockey talent pool for the United States, Canada and many European countries. USA Hockey invited five players with KHL ties to play in the upcoming Deutschland Cup, the U.S.'s only pre-Olympic tune-up tournament and a rough indication of the roster it intends to take to Pyeongchang. A whopping 16 of the 26 players on Hockey Canada's Karjala Cup roster play in the KHL.

MORE: USA Hockey announces roster for pre-Olympic tournament

Russia, installed as the odds-on favorite to win gold, simply because it's the nation with the greatest collection of high-end players outside the NHL, would be most devastated by a KHL Olympic boycott. Putin's long history of using sport, especially men's hockey, as political propaganda would seem to suggest he would be against a KHL ban.

As for Americans and Canadians playing in the KHL, it's too soon to tell whether there might be a loophole to exploit to keep their rosters intact.

Both USA Hockey and Hockey Canada declined comment Saturday about the KHL's remarks.

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