NHL players are practicing social distancing. They are doing their part to help stem the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic and doing their best to keep everyone, including their families and themselves, as safe as possible from contracting the disease.
Meanwhile in Russia, KHL hockey players are practicing like it’s the summer of 2019. They are skating and working out together. They are knocking into each other on the ice and sweating in the gym mano a mano.
At the moment, no matches are scheduled in the KHL, however that doesn't mean that we stop training!— SKA Ice Hockey Club (@hcSKA_News) March 17, 2020
Our players held a productive workout inside the Saint Petersburg Ice Palace. Make sure you enjoy our photo gallery from the session: https://t.co/UbJmZSNeEj #hcSKA pic.twitter.com/u6NtA2BzmW
It's training time!— SKA Ice Hockey Club (@hcSKA_News) March 23, 2020
Today, at the Hockey City complex in Saint Petersburg, our players held a productive workout inside the gym as we continue to keep in shape. We have a photo gallery for you: https://t.co/bpbDcYp3PI #hcSKA pic.twitter.com/GnGIZQr8WE
Social media is filled with NHL players, including many Vancouver Canucks, keeping active in social isolation while keeping their distance from their fellow skaters and teammates.
My golf game is getting gooooood ️♂️⛳️ pic.twitter.com/P72mNMUgdu— Elias Pettersson (@_EPettersson) March 20, 2020
The NHL made sure their players were able to return to their home-bases wherever that may be. On the other hand, the KHL is holding some international players as contractual hostages.
Ak Bars Kazan has called for the KHL to cancel the remainder of the post-season.— The Hockey News (@TheHockeyNews) March 18, 2020
In a statement, the team said international players have requested to return home and the organization has "no moral right to refuse them."https://t.co/wfHXgDpRAK
Canadian hockey players Justin Azevedo, Patrice Cormier and Matt Frattin are amongst the non-Russian players stuck in Russia away from their home country. They are contractually obligated to their Ak Bars Kazan KHL club until April 30th, 2020.
The Gagarin Cup playoffs are now essentially meaningless with two of the final eight clubs in the hunt for the Championship having already pulled out from the competition. The two squads that have forfeited their playoffs rights are based in Finland and Kazakhstan.
KHL's Barys Nur-Sultan withdraws from second-round Gagarin Cup playoff serieshttps://t.co/wYf5NQILOq— The Hockey News (@TheHockeyNews) March 17, 2020
Yet the KHL brass is seemingly out-of-touch with its own members and indeed the rest of the hockey world. It appears intent to soldier on with only its remaining six Russian-based playoff teams.
KHL pauses 2020 #GagarinCup Playoffs for 1 week in order to create new format and game schedule for 6 remaining Russian teams (CSKA, Ak Bars, SKA, Dynamo Moscow, Sibir, Salavat Yulaev). pic.twitter.com/j6bXahnVt9— KHL (@khl_eng) March 16, 2020
The KHL has now agreed to pause its season but only until April 10th. If the Gagarin Cup playoffs continue on April 11th this would leave only 19 days for the league to complete its season before their players’ contracts expire on April 30th.
In accordance with the recommendations of the Ministry of Sport, the Kontinental Hockey League, the Russian Premier Football League, and the VTB United Basketball League are suspended until April 10 in the hope of slowing the spread of COVID-19. https://t.co/574O4CUACF— KHL (@khl_eng) March 17, 2020
Meanwhile in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Canucks’ blue-chip prospect Vasily Podkolzin, unlike his socially-distancing future Canucks’ teammates, goes face-to-face and toe-to-toe with his current teammates seemingly undeterred by the risks. Of course, he is a 19-year-old kid on a professional profit-based team and he has little or no say in what he does in his work life while indentured to them.
Before the Iron Curtain fell in 1991, NHL clubs would help hockey players trapped behind it defect to the West. However, those players were from the communist satellite nation of Czechoslovakia (The Stastny brothers, Vaclav Nedomansky). The first player ever to defect from the now defunct Soviet Union was eventual Vancouver Canuck Alexander Mogilny, who began his NHL career in Buffalo in 1989.
Just watched a great piece on Alex Mogilny's defection to the USA. He really was one of the greats. It's too bad I'm not a bit older as I never really got to watch him with the #Canuckshttps://t.co/eYSD1wouLC— Jordan Donaldson (@DonaldsonHockey) February 9, 2019
Times of course have changed. Mogilny who risked his life to leave Soviet Russia in 1989 now resides again in his Motherland and is employed as the President of the Amur Khabarovsk KHL club. Podkolzin is trapped not by a gun-patrolled tall wall but instead by a piece of paper he signed for his puck-handling services.
It is pretty much an accepted fact that Podkolzin will need to play out the final season of his KHL contract before joining the Vancouver Canucks organization in 2021. Still you’ve got to think that general manager Jim Benning lies awake nights trying to figure out if there is a way to get Podkolzin to Canada now. It must irk him to see one of his prize draft jewels handled so carelessly. Afterall, hockey players are not immune to infection from Covid-19.