Political tensions in Ukraine have dragged professional hockey in Russia’s KHL into the mix.
Lev Praha is to play Donbass Donetsk in KHL’s quarterfinals. But KHL management has decided it would not be safe for either the teams or their fans if the games took place anywhere in Ukraine.
“It’s obvious we won’t play in Ukraine,” KHL vice-president Vladimir Shalayev told the R-Sport.ru website Tuesday.
“We’re now debating where to play. We want to hear what Donbass has to say, they have the right to choose.”
Sources say that it seems at the moment that Slovan Bratislava’s arena will be the venue.
Bratislava is the capital of the Republic of Slovakia.
Lev Praha’s spokesman Jan Rachota told Czech website iDNES.cz it looked as if the series would be played in Donetsk, but “negotiations between Donbass management and the KHL are ongoing. We await their decision.”
It doesn’t matter where they will be playing, Czech club’s players said.
“No change, so far as we are concerned,” Lev’s forward Petr Vrana told the team’s website. “We’re playing two games at home and then we’re going on the road, no matter where that’s going to be.”
After all, “We all know what’s going on in Ukraine,” Vrana said, “so I understand they made the call because of security concerns. Of course,” he added, “if we’re going to play in Bratislava, it’s better for us because we won’t have to fly anywhere, we’ll just bus it.”
It wouldn’t be the first time the Slovnaft Arena would become a home-away-from-home for Donetsk: it was the site for their seventh and deciding game against Riga.
Donetsk coach Andrei Nazarov has been philosophical: “I like Bratislava. I don’t want to talk about how it all ends right now. If there’s no change, we’re going to play our next two home games in Bratislava. But it’s going to be the league management’s decision.”
Slovak players on Donetsk’s roster were pleased with the last game, the decider against Riga, that they played in Bratislava: “I wouldn’t have dreamt that I would play the series final and deciding game at home,” observed Donetsk’s defenceman Peter Podhradský. He happens to be a Bratislava native.
Still, Podhradský said, Donetsk fans would have deserved that their club faced off against Lev in their real home arena, Druzhba.
Donetsk goalie Ján Laco, another Slovak, said he didn’t know what the fuss was all about: “When we drove to the airport, the city was calm. Nothing catastrophic.”
Yes, he conceded, “There was something going on in the area of Donetsk’s main square downtown, but nothing serious,” Laco told Slovakian website, cas.sk.
“But,” Laco added, “ it’s not our decision.”
R-Sport.ru sees things differently.
Donetsk, in the mainly Russian-speaking east of Ukraine, is being rocked by violent clashes between pro-Russian protesters who want closer ties with Russia and pro-Ukrainian activists who do not, the website said.