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Russian Olympic ban might disrupt hockey rosters (U.S., Canada included)

Venues And Townscape Ahead Of PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games

GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - DECEMBER 16: The Olympic Rings stands at the center of a traffic circle on December 16, 2016 in Gangneung, South Korea. (Photo by Woohae Cho/Getty Images)

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The International Olympic Committee dropped bombshell news on Tuesday, banning the Russian NOC from the 2018 Winter Olympics. While there’s a lot to unpack right now and plenty of details that must be settled, the hockey implications could be massive.

The press release does note that “clean athletes” will be able to participate if they meet certain standards, but they’d do so under a neutral flag, and that’s where things get even dicier for the men’s and women’s hockey tournaments.

Via the IOC’s release, here’s the pertinent bit about clean athletes participating as “OAR,” which inspired references to C-tier alt rock:

To invite individual Russian athletes under strict conditions (see below) to the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. These invited athletes will participate, be it in individual or team competitions, under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)”. They will compete with a uniform bearing this name and under the Olympic Flag. The Olympic Anthem will be played in any ceremony.

The most pertinent question for fans of international hockey is: how will this affect the KHL’s involvement in the tournament?

As you may recall from a month ago, the KHL discussed the possibility of not participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics if a doping ban hit Russia, which has come to fruition today with more than mild surprise for some. Sportsnet’s John Shannon mentions that it’s possible the KHL could opt out as soon as Wednesday.

Now, the instinct might be to assume that no KHL means that Russia alone gets hit hard, but it would be a problem for the U.S. and Canada among other countries, as well. Plenty of North American talents ply their trade in the KHL, the second most prominent pro league below the NHL.

PHT’s Sean Leahy notes that seven Americans participating in the Deutschland Cup and 19 Canadians on the Channel One Cup roster currently play in the KHL. The AP’s Stephen Whyno notes that it wouldn’t even be clear which nation would replace Russia (or a neutral Russian team) if that falls through. Yikes.

Now, there are some other options for adding players. Darren Dreger discussed some NHL prospects currently playing in the NCAA as examples of roster options, and there are certain AHL players who could conceivably be available for the 2018 Winter Olympics, too.

As Whyno reports, the IIHF’s current response is, essentially, that they need to take time to gather their thoughts and plan a next step.

In an interesting twist, you wonder if the NHL actually dodged a bullet by not participating this time around.

Ultimately, there’s an element of wait-and-see here, but it’s a big mess for tournaments that were already hurt by a lack of NHL players. PHT will monitor this messy situation as it plays out over the next few days, weeks, and perhaps months, so stay tuned.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.