IIHF pulls hockey worlds from Belarus, seeks new host

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ZURICH — The hockey world championships were pulled from Belarus on Monday following pressure from opposition groups and a threatened boycott by sponsors.

The International Ice Hockey Federation cited safety concerns and said it will seek a new country to co-host the tournament with Latvia or host it on its own. The tournament is scheduled to start May 21.

Criticism of Belarus’ role as co-host grew after authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed re-election last year was followed by mass arrests at largely peaceful demonstrations.

The IIHF said its council ”determined that it is currently impossible to ensure the welfare of teams, spectators and officials” in Belarus.

IIHF president Rene Fasel had tried to keep the men’s tournament in Belarus, claiming it could build bridges between the opposition and Lukashenko. Opposition groups criticized Fasel after he and Lukashenko embraced when they met for talks last week.

Mass protests swept Belarus after official results from the presidential election in August gave Lukashenko a landslide victory over his widely popular opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. She and her supporters refused to recognize the result, saying the vote was fraudulent. Authorities cracked down hard on the largely peaceful demonstrations which followed.

Tsikhanouskaya welcomed the IIHF decision, saying the tournament would have heralded a renewed crackdown on the opposition.

”It is a victory because there will not be an extra wave of repression for the sake of ‘cleansing’ the city before the world championship,” Tsikhanouskaya said in a statement. ”It is a victory because Lukashenko did not manage to make it look as if he has everything under control.”

Three sponsors of the tournament, Skoda, Nivea and Liqui Moly, said they would cancel their involvement if games were played in Belarus.

The IIHF said it will now consider where to hold the event, and said Latvia could remain as co-host or the tournament could move to a single venue. Denmark, the host in 2018, and Slovakia, the host in 2019, have both offered to step in.

Belarus previously hosted the tournament in 2014 amid criticism from some opposition figures and European politicians.

The women’s world championships are scheduled to be played in Canada in April. Both the men’s and women’s championships were canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.