Canadian men’s university hockey teams provide safe prep for Ukraine’s under-25 squad
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Ukraine’s under-25 men’s hockey team needed a safe place to play ahead of an international tournament, and found it in Canada.
University men’s hockey teams in the Canada West conference will host Ukraine in a four-game series starting Friday with the Saskatchewan Huskies in Saskatoon.
Ukraine then meets the Calgary Dinos on Jan. 2, Alberta Golden Bears on Jan. 3 and Manitoba Bisons on Jan. 9. Manitoba’s game will be played in Winnipeg’s NHL arena, the Canada Life Centre.
Ukraine is preparing for the World University Games starting Jan. 11 in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 shattered the lives of the players who have arrived in Canada.
Drone strikes make periods of no electricity or water common for goaltender Savva Serdiuk and his Sokol Kyiv club teammates.
“Russia is hitting our cities almost every day,” Serdiuk said during a recent conference call with Canadian media.
“It’s just really hard to live our lives. It’s pretty hard to play when this stuff is going on.
“I just love Canadian people because they are really kind. They’re just trying to help us. It means a lot for me to go play in Canada.”
Ticket-sale profits from the “Hockey Can’t Stop Tour” will go to the Canada/Ukraine Foundation, which will in turn disperse money to the Save Ukrainian Hockey Dream set up by Ukraine’s hockey federation.
“The main thing for us is to play our best hockey and show our hockey to Canadians because Canadians love hockey,” Serdiuk said.
“The other thing is to fundraise money for people who got involved in this war, and just help everyone in Ukraine, and the little kids who play in Ukraine trying to be professional players, and trying to reconstruct our arenas in Ukraine, because we have only four arenas right now that are working.”
Ukraine’s adult males require permission to leave the country in case they are needed to fight.
“All hockey players and coaches, they are feeling it is their state duty right now to play for the country,” said Ukraine Hockey Federation chief executive officer Aleksandra Slatvytska.
“Sport is a very important part of any state and social living as well.”
Dmitri Khristich, whose 13 NHL seasons included two with the Toronto Maple Leafs, is Ukraine’s assistant coach.
“It’s a really good opportunity to show Ukraine hockey is still alive and Ukraine hockey has a future,” Khristich said.
A conversation between Slatvytska and TSN commentator Gord Miller during August’s world junior men’s hockey championship in Edmonton planted the seed for the tour.
“She was talking about the issues of trying to get the team together for the World University Games in Lake Placid in January,” Miller said.
“What Aleksandra and I talked about was trying to find a place for them to train that was safe and a way for them to play games.”
Canada West schools quickly came on board, he said.
The Huskies host Ukraine on campus at Merlis Belsher Place.
“I know in Saskatchewan here, and all of Western Canada, there’s a very large Ukrainian population,” Huskies coach Brandin Cote said.
Ukraine meets the Dinos at Calgary’s Father David Bauer Arena on Monday followed by the Golden Bears the following night in Edmonton’s Clare Drake Arena.
True North Sports and Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman granted a request to make Canada Life Centre, the home of the NHL’s Jets, available for the fourth game, Bisons head coach Mike Sirant said.
“It’s going to be a tremendous experience for the Ukrainians and our student-athletes,” Sirant said.
The games will be streamed on Canada West TV.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 29, 2022.