KHL team drops title pursuit over virus concerns


Though the Kontinental Hockey League, a home to many former NHL players and coaches in Europe and Asia, is continuing on with its postseason amid the coronavirus outbreak, one of its playoff teams has withdrawn on its own.

Prior its second-round series against Russia’s SKA St. Petersburg, Jokerit Helsinki, a team from Finland, elected to not play on Saturday.

Jokerit chairman Jari Kurri, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and a five-time Stanley Cup champion, released a statement illustrating the decision.

“These are exceptional times and they call for exceptional measures,” Kurri said. “The well-being and health of the people and our society is paramount and Jokerit wants to shoulder its responsibility in the matter. We have held thorough discussions with our team doctors and players and together, [we] came to this conclusion. It is a very difficult but necessary decision.”

The KHL issued a statement Saturday about the coronavirus pandemic, but it mentioned nothing about postponing or canceling the postseason. It also did not update the status of SKA St. Petersburg, and answer if they’d receive a bye into the next round, given its lack of opponent.

“[The] KHL, as a major international sports league is acutely aware of its responsibility to fans, teams and staff, and is closely monitoring the situation as it develops and will strictly comply with instructions from state authorities in all participating countries of the championship, when it comes to protecting public health,” the statement said. “The pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation, and in this regard, [the] KHL is in consultation with clubs and all relevant authorities to diligently manage the impact of this matter.”

Jokerit, which defeated Russia’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the first round, has a roster loaded with former NHL players, including Antti Niemi, Sami Lepisto, Petri Kontiola, Peter Regin and Saku Maenalanen.

The KHL was founded in 2008, and the league plays for what is known as the Gagarin Cup.

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