Young Jets fan enjoying trip of a lifetime


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MONTREAL — Arsenii Varchuk doesn't hesitate when asked to name his favourite thing about hockey.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/02/2019 (1451 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

MONTREAL — Arsenii Varchuk doesn’t hesitate when asked to name his favourite thing about hockey.

“I enjoy the breeze that I get when I skate,” the 11-year-old Winnipegger replied immediately.

Well, Arsenii might have a new No. 1 after Thursday. He got to live the dream at the Bell Centre in Montreal, where he and his parents were given the VIP treatment, which included attending the Winnipeg Jets’ morning skate, mingling with players and coaches and taking in the game.

MIKE MCINTYRE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Arsenii Varchuk, 11, with mom, Ilona, and his dad, Yuriya, is a student at Stevenson-Britannia School in Winnipeg. He came to Canada three years ago from Minsk, Belarus, and fell in love with hockey and the Jets. He is in Montreal today for the game as part of an Air Canada fan promotion.

“It’s an unforgettable experience. For the rest of our lives, we will remember it forever,” Ilona Varchuk told the Free Press of watching her son meet his idols.

The family was flown east by the Air Canada Foundation to be honoured for the strides they’ve made in just three years since immigrating to Canada from Belarus in the hopes of a better life. Arsenii didn’t speak a word of English or know a soul in his new country. Now he’s a top-notch student, a pivotal member of his hockey team and a huge Jets fan.

The leader and mentor to other young immigrants was nominated by teammates, peers and the True North Youth Foundation to be on the “fan flight” to Montreal.

“He’s a big leader, helping others. We were looking for someone who was standing out, and they absolutely put him up front. He’s really stepping up, helping others,” said Air Canada’s Veronique Poulin.

As Arsenii explains it, he just wanted to use his own experience to help others.

“I don’t want people to be scared like I was when I came,” said Arsenii, who is in Grade 5 at Stevenson-Britannia School in St. James but comes across as wise beyond his years.

In addition to playing the sport through the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Academy, Arsenii is also in his school choir, is involved in an Eco club and a program that fixes bikes for other students, and takes swimming lessons.

Hockey, he said, played a major role in helping him to quickly adjust to his new surroundings and make new friends.

“Hockey helped me a lot, in probably every situation. When I first came to hockey, I was kind of lonely, I didn’t really know anybody. Then some kids came over, they were like ‘Hey, want to come play with us?’ They’re the ones who taught me how to skate. I picked it up in a month or two,” said Arsenii.

“And when I kind of feel bad, I like to go skating. It makes me feel better.”

Arsenii got to meet his favourite player, Jets centre Mark Scheifele, and swap some tips.

MIKE MCINTYRE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Arsenii Varchuk and his dad, Yuriya, met Jets head coach Paul Maurice as part of an Air Canada fan promotion.

“He said some compliments,” said Arsenii. “I just like the style that he plays. I think he’s a great role model for me.”

Arsenii’s parents say they knew their son was serious about hockey when he fell and broke an arm last season, yet insisted on continuing to go to practices even though he couldn’t grip a stick.

“For some reason I thought it was maybe be a scary thing the next time, but he said he wanted to continue to play hockey. He continued to attend every training lesson. He didn’t want to miss anything,” said Ilona Varchuk.

“We don’t have a lot of opportunities back in our country like we do here in Canada. Arsenii was interested in what this game was about, what are people so excited about. We became great fans once Arsenii started to play hockey. At that moment we started to follow everything.”

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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