Belarus crowned a hockey champion despite COVID-19 pandemic

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It remains unknown if the NHL will have a 2019-20 champion, but one country played on amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The only remaining active hockey league crowned a champion on Saturday. Yunost Minsk are your Belarusian Extraliga President’s Cup winners for this season.

Maxim Parfeyevets overtime goal helped Yunost top Shakhtyor Soligorsk in Game 5 of the best-of-seven series.

The brother of Flyers prospect Maxim Sushko plays for Shakhter Soligorsk. Maxim is home in Belarus but chose not to leave his house to watch Ilya play.

“The government says you’re allowed to go but a lot of people are scared to go there,” Maxim told the Courier Post’s Dave Isaac. “Obviously, you go inside and you have to use sanitizer and they’re measuring their temperature in the rink. When the finals started, it was pretty full. Every game it was less and less and less people. When I was watching today, I think it was maybe 200 people.”

Even with leagues around the world pausing or cancelling seasons, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko saw no threat of the spreading coronavirus. The country’s soccer league is now in full swing.

[MORE: How Bauer is making medical shields to battle coronavirus]

Lukashenko even took to the ice last week for a pick-up game and told a reporter when asked if the virus would stop him from playing, “It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees. Me? Why? I don’t understand. There is no virus here. This is a refrigerator, it is the best thing for your health. Sport, especially on ice, is better than any antiviral medication. It is the real thing.”

As of Sunday, there were 562 confirmed COVID-19 cases and two deaths related to the virus in Belarus, per the World Health Organization.

According to IIHF.com, playoff games in Belarus went on in front crowds between 850 and 2,000 fans. Yunost’s championship clincher, however, saw only 239 in attendance because coronavirus fears kept people home, even with no lockdown orders from the government.

Follow this NBC News live update thread for more on the coronavirus pandemic.

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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.

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