Comment: Bob Westerdale on ice hockey’s moral compass amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

It doesn't sit right with me, and I'm pretty sure many millions of people will feel the same.

Friday, 17th June 2022, 11:00 am

Ice hockey players from north America and Europe will still be playing for Russian teams in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) next season, despite the invasion of Ukraine.

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And that has led Sheffield Steelers' coach Aaron Fox to draw attention to the "moral compass" of players who will earn a fortune in the Russian league at a time of instability and bloodshed in the region.

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Fox, an American who was once a general manager in the KHL for four years with Croatian side Medvescak Zagreb, keeps a trained eye on hockey's recruitment market worldwide.

But any hopes of a significant flow of top-class athletes pulling out of Russia and making themselves available to lower-ranked leagues, all the way down to the humble surrounds of the EIHL, seem wide of the mark.

"I was kind of hoping more players would be available on the market," he said.

"I don't think there has been a huge trickle-down.

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"KHL teams can have five non-Russians in Russian teams. They've used Finns, north Americans, Czechs and Swedes.

"There are still plenty of imports signing in the KHL right now, and players going back.

"There are still zero issues on the Russian side to get visas for players.

"And the money is just too good for some to walk away from."

Aaron Fox.

But wouldn't 'western' players working in Russia be denigrated later in their career?

"As we know, it usually doesn't work that way," said Fox.

"There is not a whole lot of moral compass when it comes to sport and winning and earning.

"It goes both sides. If a player can make 600,000-700,000 (Euros/dollars) in Russia or 150,000 in Germany that is a huge difference for them to give up.

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"The flip side is they might think maybe they'll be vilified when they come out of Russia...but I'm still pretty sure teams in Germany, Sweden and Finland will take someone, even though he played in Russia because that player is good.

"It (the military conflict) means some players won't go back, but there are plenty that will go, I believe there will be some Americans in the league."

Instead of players displaced by the war ending up on the UK market, we have seen stars like Marco Vallerand move on from the EIHL.

"We see a lot of players from here leaving for opportunities in some other leagues in Europe, which is always good for recruitment, here. You never want to lose a guy like Vally, obviously, but that's the way it works."

Steelers' players who live in north America are not as open in discussing the delicate situation.

One declined to comment, another said he did not know whether people on their side of the Atlantic were as concerned about the Ukraine war as British and Europeans are.

Steelers have only ever iced one Russian, power winger Nikolai Lemtyugov played for Fox in 2019-20.

There was no issue of such magnitude between Europe and Russia then and Arena fans really liked the forward.

He is now an assistant coach at Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk, an industrial city in Chelyabinsk Oblast, more than 1,300 miles from the Ukranian border.