Sport What Russia's Olympic ban means for USA, Canada hockey in 2018 Games

00:51  06 december  2017
00:51  06 december  2017 Source:   Sporting News

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a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Russia, United States, Canada© (Getty Images) Russia, United States, Canada

Russia has been banned from competing at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the IOC announced Tuesday , a stunning decision with far-reaching implications for the men's and women's ice hockey tournaments, two showcase events at the Winter Games.

For starters, the obvious: Russia, the odds-on favorite to win gold in an NHL-less men's field , is thrown into uncertainty.

The IOC's punishment is the result of a 17-month investigation into Russia's "systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system" at the 2014 Sochi Games. Russian athletes who can demonstrate they're clean to the IOC are still allowed to compete in Pyeongchang, but must do so under the neutral Olympic flag and only after their eligibility has been individually vetted and approved.

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Russia has been banned from competing at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the IOC announced Tuesday, a stunning decision with far-reaching implications for the men' s and women' s ice hockey tournaments, two showcase events at the Winter Games .

This text will be replaced. Youth Olympic TrainingElise Rechichi, Youth Olympic Games ambassador

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That means it's possible for a team of Russian hockey players to assemble and compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia," should they agree to relinquish the Russian flag. Such a scenario requires the blessing of the KHL, which employs the majority of Russia's prospective national hockey team. And while it's unclear whether clean players are willing to participate outside of the Russian flag, the KHL has already threatened to boycott the IOC's doping ban, blocking those under contractual obligation to their teams.

Therein lies the greatest concern for USA Hockey and Hockey Canada.

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If the International Olympic Committee isn’t aware of the shock waves it will send not just through the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but also through the international hockey world by including the Russian Olympic hockey team in their planned ban of the Russian Olympic team

Both nations are relying heavily on North Americans playing professionally in European leagues to fill their Olympic rosters following the NHL's decision to block its players from competing in Pyeongchang. Last month, USA Hockey invited five players with KHL ties to play in the Deutschland Cup, the U.S.'s only pre-Olympic tune-up tournament and a rough indication of the roster it intends to take to South Korea. A whopping 16 of the 26 players included on Hockey Canada's Karjala Cup roster play in the KHL.

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A KHL-wide blockade on the Olympics would then in theory force those players to choose between their countries and professional contracts.

In an attempt to mediate these concerns, the International Ice Hockey Federation, which sanctions the Olympic ice hockey tournaments, has pushed for the KHL to release non-Russian players their contracts and allow them to represent their home nations. The KHL was expected to comply, but that was before the IOC's Russia ban.

Neither the KHL nor Russia's Olympic Committee have commented on the decision. President Vladimir Putin is expected to address the issue Wednesday.

So Americans and Canadians playing in the KHL are left to hold their breath.

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