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2 Russian Maple Leafs prospects are off to Finland for tournament play

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Russia has decided to send their junior team to the Karjala Cup.

2019 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championship semifinals: Russia 1 - 2 United States
I guess they don’t want this to happen again.
Photo by Andrew Chan\TASS via Getty Images

Today, the Russian Hockey Federation has announced their team for the Karjala Cup, held each year in Helsinki, Finland as part of the Euro Hockey Tour. This event is a senior men’s national team competition that takes place in several locations over the season during scheduled breaks in league play.

This year, the tour, like everything else, is different.

The event is set to run from November 5-8 in Hartwall arena in Helsinki, home of Jokerit of the KHL.

A maximum attendance of 4,500 will be allowed for games involving the Finnish national team, but all games without Finland’s participation will be held behind closed doors.

All participating teams will undergo testing for coronavirus before flying to Finland and upon arrival. That includes the Finnish national team, referees and everyone involved with the tournament.

Teams will stay in one hotel and will only be allowed to leave for training sessions and games. Designated shuttles will transport the teams to and from the Arena.

The usual Four-Nations U20 event for November has been converted to a Sweden vs Finland camp in Malmö, Sweden from November 2-7. We should expect a host of Leafs prospects to join that Finnish team.

The KHL has used the November break to reschedule games previously postponed because of Coronavirus outbreaks on teams.

The Russian Federation has decided to send their U20 team to the Karjala Cup to help prepare for the WJC in December:

The Russian Ice Hockey Federation, taking into account all the circumstances of the difficult hockey season, decided to take a young team to the Karjala Cup. This move will become one of the stages of preparation for a very important tournament - the World Junior Championship. Our U20 team began to prepare for it back in the summer, when the FHR gathered a development camp for hockey players from the North American leagues. Then there was the pre-season tournament in Sochi, and then the preparatory cycle was interrupted, as two tournaments of four nations, as well as the super series in Canada were canceled.

Included on the roster is newly drafted Leafs prospects Rodion Amirov and Artur Akhtyamov, who has been getting buzz as the likely third goalie for the WJC this year.

Not attending are Russian juniors playing elsewhere like Mikhail Abramov. We should expect to see him on the roster when it’s finalized for mid-December in Edmonton.

It will be very interesting to see how the junior team does in a men’s event, but of course, most of the top National Team players for Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic are in the KHL, and until those rosters are announced, we won’t know the true strength of the competition.

Jokerit has just returned home from a road trip in Russia and confirmed today that four members of the club tested positive for Coronavirus. Under Finnish rules, they must quarantine for 14 days, and their two home games in Hartwall have been postponed. Under KHL procedure, their next two road games might not be.

When a simple trip to Russia to play three hockey games returns four cases of COVID-19, that raises a lot of questions about the entire concept of holding international events, even with the procedures to be employed for the Karjala Cup.

The players for the various WJC teams are expected, per the latest Insider Trading on TSN, to arrive in Edmonton on December 13.

Update:

The Finns are not happy with Russia for sending this junior team. They are demanding a proper men’s team be sent.

Jukka Jalonen (Finland’s head coach) does not appreciate that.

- Everyone else participating in the tournament was very surprised when we heard about this. We have also been in contact with Sweden and the Czech Republic. No later than today, we will communicate to Russia that this does not work, Jalonen said at a press conference on Monday.

- EHT is still a tournament for men. And then they send a U20 team. Hopefully they rethink and send a team of KHL players. It’s pretty simple really. They made this decision without checking with us, he continues and adds:

- But it is not so dramatic as they can still fix it.

According to Jalonen, no other national team had considered doing the same. And if Russia wants to play, they will have to rethink.

- If they want to play, they must have a team of KHL players with them to the tournament. Maybe they wanted to test if this would be okay or not. But I can not take a position on what happens if they do not replace the team. Sweden and the Czech Republic must also have their say.

Finland cannot yet announce the players for their team as intended on Monday, October 26. Most of them would come from Jokerit, who are currently under quarantine. They will have to wait a few days to see if any of those players are available to go into the bubble for this event in Helsinki.

Jalonen only said they will not choose Finns from other KHL teams, but will draw from the Liiga and other leagues like the SHL instead. Players in Europe on loan from NHL teams will not be chosen.

Update 2: Sweden announced their roster today, and it includes Leafs draft pick Pontus Holmberg. The roster is 100% made up of players in the SHL and Allsvenskan, and like the Finnish plans, does not include anyone on an NHL contract on loan. Missing from the roster are many top Swedish players who currently play in the KHL and have played for Sweden at World Championships recently.

Update 3: Finland announced their roster today, and included is Axel Rindell. The team is made up entirely of Liiga players, so many are making their first-ever appearance on the men’s national team.

The fourth team at the event, Czech Republic has unique challenges in making a team. Their top league is suspended from play and training due to Coronavirus concerns, and they can’t draw from the KHL or other leagues easily. Players keep turning them down. The result is a roster made up of a mix of junior players and other pros. No Filip Kral on the roster, but you have to wonder how close they came to asking him.