‘More than a game,’ as Team Ukraine play Bisons in Winnipeg


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If there was any doubt more than an exhibition hockey game between the U25 Ukrainian National Team and the University of Manitoba Bisons was going on at Canada Life Centre on Jan. 9, it was put to rest after Mykhailo Simchuk potted the first goal of the game.
The crowd, including 4,000 Ukrainian war refugees, roared with the approval of home fans watching an NHL playoff game. The fans, many carrying Ukrainian flags or donned in Ukrainian jerseys, kept up the energy as Ukraine dominated on the ice, eventually winning 5-1 on the scoreboard.

The game was the final action on the Hockey Can’t Stop Tour, featuring the Ukrainian team playing CanadaWest Universities in preparation for the World University Games in Lake Placid.

The Manitoba stop featured the largest crowd of the four-stop tour, and was moved to the CanadaLife Centre after a conversation between Bisons head coach Mike Sirant and Winnipeg Jets owner Mark Chipman.

“We had a few breakdowns, they’re such a skilled team that they capitalized, and we had some chances that didn’t go in so perhaps the score could’ve been closer but tonight was more than just a hockey game,” Sirant said after the game.

“Our players can feel really good about what they contributed to making this game happen.”

The move to the bigger venue paid off, with nearly 8,000 people taking in the game, a lower bowl sellout, and Team Ukraine’s first victory on the tour as the team gels before the games. But hockey is secondary for many of the players on this team.

“It’s very difficult,” head coach Vadym Shakhraichuk told the Winnipeg Free Press before the game.

“We can’t concentrate just on hockey. Every time we read the news what happened — how many rockets (Vladimir Putin sent to Ukraine? — it’s very difficult. But we want to show the whole world Ukrainian hockey is alive, even when our country is going to war.”

Reserve goaltender Savva Serdiuk recalled how his parents’ home in Kyiv was only 100 metres away from a rocket strike a few days ago.

Most of the proceeds from the tour, organized by TSN broadcaster Gord Miller, are going to the Save Ukrainian Hockey Dream, a charity dedicated to rebuilding hockey infrastructure after the war.

There is an Eastman connection to this University of Manitoba team. Although Oakbank’s Brett Davis was away with Team Canada to play at the very same games Team Ukraine will later play in, St Adolphe’s Devon Skoleski was suited up for the black and gold, scoring the team’s only goal in the third period.

After the game, it was once again clear more than a warm-up game had just taken place, as the Ukrainians soaked up the atmosphere, circling the rink and thanking fans for supporting them. Both teams also posed for a photo together after the game.

Previous games on the tour included sellouts at the universities of Saskatchewan (2,375 in attendance), Calgary (1,700) and Alberta (2,300).

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