Ask anyone who follows international hockey: the IIHF’s eligibility rules can be rather confusing. For the average hockey fan, seeing your country using players from a different nation is very rare. It almost seems like a crazy idea.

But, as it will be, it happens a lot. In fact, you’ll see it happen a ton with some countries within the top 20, including Kazakhstan and Italy. Just recently, the Croatians added a bunch of former NHL prospects to help strengthen their World Championship roster. For some players, they never actually visited their new country of residence before getting signing with a team there. Whether you like it or not, it does help a ton of smaller hockey nations help develop, while others, including the suspended Armenian team, can’t seem to figure it out. If they wanted to come back to IIHF competition, they would need to have enough players that could officially play for the country, even if that means convincing some players to become dual citizens.

Hey, if they need any help, they can always read this!

Two-Year Case

The two year cycle is the most common option for some of the lower tier guys. For many players from one of the top countries in the world, competing for your homeland is likely not an option. As a result, you’ll see a lot of these players hop on over to a neighboring league in an attempt to gain citizenship elsewhere (you tend to see North Americans do this a lot).

According to the IIHF:

Acquiring a new national eligibility (The ‘two-year’ case)
When a player has changed his citizenship or has acquired another citizenship and wants to participate for the first time in an IIHF competition representing his new country he must:

  • Prove that he has participated for at least two consecutive hockey seasons and 16 consecutive months (480 days) in the national competitions of his new country after his 10th birthday during which period he has neither transferred to another country nor played ice hockey within any other country. Female players need to have participated on a consistent basis for at least one hockey season and have been member of the new national association for at least 12 consecutive months during that period.
  • Have an international transfer card (ITC) that shows the transfer to the national association of his new country and which was approved and dated at least two years before the start of the IIHF competition in which he wishes to participate.

Just last year, the IIHF declared that Canadians Kevin Lalande was eligible to represent the Belarusian national team in IIHF events. The former NHL prospects had been competing for Dynamo Minsk, a Belorussian team in the KHL, for multiple seasons. As Lalande had never actually competed for Canada within the 24-month period prior to his acceptance, the IIHF saw no issue as he met the requirements in order to participate.

Let’s take a look at a theoretical example. Let’s say you are an American looking to become eligible to play for Bosnia. In order to do so, you would have to:

  1. Have Bosnia citizenship.
  2. Move to Bosnia and have proof that you lived there for the full eligibility period. You cant just return to play in Texas for the summer.
  3. Have played in a league in Bosnia, and nowhere other than Bosnia.

The same rules apply to players that are under the age of 18. Recently, Great Britain was disqualified from the recent Division IB World Junior tournament after using Adam Jones, who wasn’t legally allowed to play for Team GB. Jones, who turned 18 back in January, currently plays with the Summerland Steam of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League in Canada. Having played in North America for the majority of his junior career, it doesn’t look like Jones will be able to compete again internationally until he finally completes the requirements.

For the two year status to be confirmed, the IIHF and the member association have to recognize the league that the player competes in. Usually, private leagues aren’t supported by countries as they go by their own rules and regulations. In the case of former Montreal Canadiens draft pick Sébastien Bordeleau, the Vancouver, Canada born forward had played two years of minor hockey in France while his father was also competing in the country. The IIHF thought it was sufficient enough time to allow Bordeleau to compete for the Frenchmen, playing for France in two separate World Championship events.

A big percentage of the 2014 Italian World Championship squad applies to this rule. With ten Canadian players competing for the Italians, the two year rule applied for those hoping to get a chance to compete at the top group of the World Championships. Many people don’t like the transfer rules because it damages the development of home grown talent, but that’s a story for a different day.

Four-Year Case

Change of national eligibility (The ‘four-year’ case)
A player, who has previously participated in IIHF competition, can switch national eligibility (but only once in a player’s life) if:

  • He is a citizen of the new country of his choice
  • He has participated for at least four consecutive years (1460 days) in the national competitions of his new country, during which period he has neither transferred to another country nor played ice hockey within any other country and has not played for his previous country in an IIHF competition during this four year period.
  • He has an international transfer card (ITC) that shows the transfer to the national association of his new country and which was approved and dated at least four years before the start of the IIHF competition in which he wishes to participate.

If a player has already competed for one country at an official IIHF tournament, they must require the four year period before being able to transfer to another team that they currently are a citizen for. Just like in the two year case, a player isn’t allowed to compete for their previous country and has to play a minimum of four years in the new country.

Probably the most famous four-year case has to be that of Evgeni Nabokov. While hockey fans have come to know him now as a Russian hockey goaltender, the Tampa Bay Lightning backup actually first represented Kazakhstan back in 1994. Back in 2002, eight years after he last represented Kazakhstan, Nabokov applied to play for Russia as his native country missed the tournament altogether. The IIHF did not agree, however, to allow the transfer to go through, as back then the IIHF wasn’t interested in allowing players to compete for two different countries. His argument was that he was born into the Soviet Union, but was unable to represent Russia due to being born in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan. Nabokov was in fact a Russian citizen, having played in Russia for five years back in the 90’s.

In 2003, the IIHF was decided to alter their rules on the subject, creating the four year rule. They said that any player who plays for four years in a given country where he is a citizen can change his nationality when representing a team at an international tournament. He was eventually given clearance to play for Russia at the 2006 Olympics in Turin and would play in four different tournaments after the fact while wearing a red, white and blue Russian sweater.

In Kazakhstan’s case, the team has yet to find a player with the same skill level as Nabokov. The team has struggled for many years, bouncing in and out of the top division of the World Championships. While Russia has no shortage of goaltending, a team like Kazakhstan doesn’t have the same chance to replenish their back end, and it only proves to show that abuse could happen if more cases similar to this appear over time. If a player is good enough to play for a second, much strong country, why go back and play for your home land?

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

One Response

  1. Haris

    Great article!

    I’m wondering if the IIHF Eligeble rules apply if you are born in the country you wish to represent, but you grew up in another?


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