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Wayne Gretzky believes Russia should not play in rescheduled World Juniors contest

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Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky believes Russia should not be allowed to participate in the World Juniors tournament in Alberta this summer.

After COVID-19 cases forced the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to cancel the tournament in December, players will have the opportunity to compete again sometime this August after the under-18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

In an interview on NHL on TNT, Gretzky said the international hockey community needs to make a statement after Russia's invasion of Ukraine by banning their participation in the tournament.

"Listen, we all agree that this is a senseless war," Gretzky said. "I talked to a couple of guys this morning who are living in Ukraine. They are actually driving from Kyiv with their families 14 hours dropping them off, driving back, and picking up rifles and guns so that they can protect their own cities."

Gretzky added that he was "so glad" to see the Polish national soccer team "step up" and refuse to play its soccer World Cup qualifier against Russia in March. That game is set to be played in Moscow.

"I think international hockey should say we are not going to let them (Russia) play in the World Juniors hockey tournament," Gretzky added. "I think we as Canadians need to take that stance since the games are going to be played in Edmonton."

In a statement released Friday, the IIHF said it is "saddened" and "deeply concerned" by the use of military force against Ukraine. It is scheduled to meet on Monday to decide on how the conflict will affect Russia's participation and whether future events will be held in Russia.

"The IIHF and its Council condemn the use of military force and urge the use of diplomatic means to solve conflicts," the hockey federation said. "Our thoughts are with the people in Ukraine and the Ukrainian ice hockey family.

"As the IIHF has a duty of care to all its Championship participants, the IIHF Council is reviewing and considering the implications of this conflict on our events."

Russia is set to host two major IIHF events in 2023, including the World Junior Championship in Novosibirsk and Saint Petersburg will be the home of the World Championship.

Last week, the 2022 Champions League final was stripped from Russia, and the country's Formula One Grand Prix in Sochi was suspended. 

With files from TSN