Finland and Sweden banning KHL players from national teams

HELSINKI (AP) — Finland and Sweden will ban from their national ice hockey teams any of their players who appear in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League from next season.

Both ice hockey federations announced their decisions on Monday, two days after the KHL season ended.

“The position of the Finnish Hockey Association is that players playing in Russia next season will not be able to play for the national team,” the association said.

The statement followed public and media criticism of players in their respective men’s national teams who appeared in the KHL.

Most foreign players left the KHL after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, but defenseman Mikko Lehtonen was one prominent Finn who stayed at SKA St. Petersburg to the end of the season.

The agent for Lehtonen, an Olympic and world champion, reportedly said they tried to end his contract immediately but faced a multi-million euros fine. In the end, they reportedly mutually agreed for Lehtonen to play out SKA’s season and he would be released from his contract three years early.

Lehtonen is in the Finland team for the four-team Euro Hockey Tour event starting on Tuesday in Sweden, the last preparation for the world championship starting next week.

There were three Swedes in the KHL finals on Saturday when, amid prominent slogans for Russia and President Vladimir Putin, CSKA Moscow beat Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the seventh game for the championship. But none of the three were picked by Sweden for the Euro Hockey Tour.

“We have noted that Russia has used the KHL as its propaganda tool, and the situation has escalated during the playoffs,” Swedish federation secretary general Johan Stark said. “On the part of the Swedish Hockey Association, we are going to ensure that players who choose to play in KHL for next season will not join our national team. Officially, the decision will be made by the federal government after the season.”

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