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KHL player Damir Ryspayev has lifetime ban lifted

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A 2016 KHL preseason game that ended after three minutes due to a brawl resulted in one player receiving a lifetime ban. On Wednesday, that ban was lifted.

Barys’ Damir Ryspayev sucker-punched Tomas Marcinko of Kunlun, concussing the forward, during a wild August 2016 brawl against Kunlun Red Star. That wasn’t enough for Ryspayev, who then proceeded to go after other Kunlun players before challenging their bench to fight.

Kunlun would end up abandoning the game and Ryspayev was eventually suspended after he “systematically and grotesquely violated” the league’s rules, according to Gennady Timchenko, representative of the KHL’s Council of Directors. “We are constantly working to attract a new audience and broaden the game’s geographical reach and Ryspaev’s behavior is not merely harmful in a sporting context, it also blackens the image of the league,” said KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko at the time.

As he was away from the KHL, Ryspayev played in Kazakhstan and the Russian VHL, awaiting a decision on his latest appeal. He also received an invite from an MMA promoter tried to to participate on a fight card last spring but ultimately wasn’t interested.

Sixteen months later, Ryspayev is free to play again after a players’ union submission convinced the KHL Disciplinary Committee to lift the suspension. He will do so back with Barys, who signed the 22-year-old to a one-year, two-way contract.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Mike Keenan out as coach/GM of KHL’s Kunlun Red Star

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Days after losing his role as general manager, Mike Keenan has now been relieved of his coaching responsibilities by Kunlun Red Star of the KHL. Following nine straight defeats, which places them near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 68-year-old will remain as an executive member on the team’s International Advisory Board.

Former NHLer Bobby Carpenter will take reins behind the bench on an interim basis with fellow ex-players Cliff Ronning and Igor Kravchuk staying on as assistants.

“Mike Keenan has done a great job for several months,” said Kunlun president Raitis Pilsetnieks via SovSport (translated). “He formed a completely new KHL team, and also took an active part in building the entire club structure, which is part of a large-scale project for the development of Chinese hockey in the run-up to the Winter Olympics in 2022.

“Since March, he worked almost without days off, and we were often amazed at his amazing endurance and efficiency. But, unfortunately, everything has a limit, and the work, coupled with a huge number of flights, is beyond his strength. Therefore, it was decided to return to the original form of cooperation. I have no doubt that as a member of the International Coordination Council Mike Keenan will bring a lot of benefits to the club and the Chinese hockey in general.”

Kunlun responded well to the news by snapping their nine-game losing streak with a 4-3 overtime win against Amur on Sunday.

Keenan, who was the first coach to win championships in the KHL and NHL, joined Kunlun in March 17 months after he was canned by Metallurg Magnitogorsk, with whom he led to a Gagarin Cup title in 2014.

So will we hear Keenan’s pop up whenever the first NHL head coach gets fired this season? He’s been out of the NHL game since 2009, but that never stopped general managers from bringing in a retread. Hey, how about a Philadelphia reunion? OK, that’s probably a pipe dream. But given Keenan’s recent coaching history, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him resurface behind a bench elsewhere in Europe.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

KHL plans to celebrate 10th anniversary with space adventure

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The Kontinental Hockey League’s 10th anniversary celebration is going to be literally out of this world.

The league’s trophy, the Gagarin Cup, is named after Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space. So it makes sense that in the KHL’s 10th year they’ll celebrate by having a mini replica of the trophy and a puck blasted into space on Dec. 17 on the Soyuz MS-07 to the International Space Station.

After orbiting Earth for 72 days under the guidance of cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, they will return and the puck will be dropped before the first game of the 2018 Gagarin Cup Final.

“I am overjoyed to be handed this unusual and honorable mission – to deliver a puck and a replica of the Gagarin Cup to the International Space Station,” said Anton Shpaklerov, Commander of the crew of Expedition 54 and 55 to the ISS. “This is my third flight, but it will the first time I have embarked on a mission with such an unusual cargo. After today’s events, my interest in the game and in the KHL Championship will certainly grow. For me, and for all our crew who are already in orbit, it is a pleasure and an honor to be granted this role of Ambassadors in Space for the game of hockey and for the KHL.”

The NHL will be wrapping up its centennial celebrations next month so there’s still time for them to one-up their rivals. Here are some ideas:

• Leave the nightmare fuel-inducing flood-damaged head of Harvey the Hound on the ISS for prank opportunities.

• Grab some extra space rock to create the next line of hockey sticks.

• Next player who commits a Raffi Torres-level suspension gets left there like Matt Damon in “The Martian.”

• Attach one of Don Cherry’s suits to the end of a Zdeno Chara stick and plant it on the moon.

• Blast every New York Islanders fishsticks, Dallas Stars mooterus and Anaheim Ducks wild wing jerseys into outer space.

• Or just hold an outdoor game on the moon, which would involve the Chicago Blackhawks, naturally.

So, there are options.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

IIHF backs Russia’s participation in Pyeongchang Olympics

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The International Ice Hockey Federation doesn’t want to see hockey suffer at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

With the International Olympic Committee set to rule on whether Russia can compete at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games next week, the IIHF threw its support behind Russia’s “clean” athletes on Tuesday.

The IIHF released a statement on the matter on Tuesday, stating that they “oppose” the use of collective punishment in what they called a “unanimous opinion.”

The IOC will rule on the matter on Dec. 5.

The statement, which can be read in full below, said that “punitive measures” the IOC is seeking against Russia would put the “health of ice hockey at risk.”

The IIHF Council has reached a unanimous opinion that all clean athletes, including those from Russia, must be permitted to represent their country in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang.

We oppose the use of collective punishment in the case of Russian athletes. Although we recognize the need to confront doping in sport, Olympic participation should not be used to sanction the many for the actions of the few. In addition, the extent to which the IOC is seeking punitive measures in the case of Russia is putting the health of ice hockey at risk.

Russia’s role in the growth and development of ice hockey cannot be understated. This country forms a pillar on which our sport’s legacy rests upon.

To preserve the integrity of the Olympic ice hockey tournaments, the IIHF in full cooperation with the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and the Kontinental Hockey League initiated a highly structured testing program for the KHL, MHL, and WHL, which went into operation in December 2016 and up to the present has tested nearly 400 Russian players.

To this effect, the IIHF Council reiterates its position that clean athletes from all qualified Federations should be permitted to go to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games and represent their countries.

“We wanted to outline our position clearly to the IOC, that we are against a collective punishment approach that would unfairly punish many Russian athletes that had nothing to do with doping,” said IIHF President René Fasel in a release.

The potential punishment that could be levied against Russia stems from the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

The World Anti-Doping Agency claims Russia’s athletes were involved in a state-backed doping program to help boost their medal count at their chances of success at their home Games.

Last week, Hockey Canada, along with the hockey federations in Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic sent a letter to the Kontinental Hockey League, encouraging the league not to withhold its players from the games in protest for the potential sanctions of Russia’s Pyeongchang participation.

The move by the KHL would have a widespread effect on the composition of hockey teams heading to the Games. The CBC reported last week that “sixteen members of Canada’s 25-man-roster at the recent Karjala Cup in Finland play in the KHL, including goalie Ben Scrivens and forwards Wojtek Wolski and Teddy Purcell.”

Fasel said the KHL is obliged to release any players of any nationality.

NHL players will not be permitted to play in the Olympics, which run from Feb. 9 to Feb. 26.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Russian ice hockey player has 2-year doping ban cut

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ZURICH (AP) The International Ice Hockey Federation has slashed a doping ban given to Russian forward Danis Zaripov from two years to six months.

He’s eligible to play again from Thursday.

Zaripov, a Russian Olympian in 2010, was suspended in July for taking the banned substance pseudoephedrine.

However, the IIHF says it has reached a settlement with Zaripov, who filed an appeal. The IIHF agreed to cut the suspension. Since it’s dated from May 23, that means Zaripov will be eligible again on Thursday.

The IIHF says its decision is “based on extensive documentary and expert evidence that was unavailable” this year.

Zaripov has previously told Russian media he was in contact with the St. Louis Blues about a move to the NHL, where his ban isn’t valid.