AS I SEE IT: Ukraine-Bisons hockey game illustrates the healing power of sport
In hugely important athletic contests it is not uncommon for the vanquished to weep at their heartbreak, while sometimes you even see the victors cry tears of joy for the win that was the culmination of their dreams.
But it’s something completely different to see fans in the stands shedding tears.
Such was the case earlier this week when Ukraine’s national under-25 team took on the University of Manitoba Bisons in downtown Winnipeg.
That Ukraine won the game 5-1 thanks to their speed and relentless forechecking is completely inconsequential. If anyone needed an illustration of sport meaning something much bigger and much more important than a sporting competition, this game was the perfect example.
It would be fascinating to know what percentage of the crowd was Ukrainian or has Ukrainian roots. I would guess it was a very high number. There were so many Ukrainian flags and jerseys and caps, the game had an Olympic style feel to it. Every time Ukraine scored, dozens upon dozens of Ukrainian flags were waved with beaming, boisterous pride.
For a nation and a people suffering from a devasting war, the game was a brief escape from the horrific reality of what is happening in their homeland.
The question that I couldn’t get out of my mind as the Ukrainian national was sung so beautifully by local Ukrainian mens’ choir Hoosli is “what are the players thinking as they stand on their blueline listening to their anthem?”
Are they thinking about the game that’s about to begin and the strategies and tactics they’ve practiced, or, are they thinking of loved ones back home and wondering if they will survive the latest Russian attacks?
The mood in the building was more than electric. It was joyful, it was celebratory, it was overflowing with national pride, it was gratitude, it was excitement, and it was escapism. For three hours the fans and the players didn’t have to think about Putin’s illegal war.
The war has proven to the world how resilient and steadfast the people of Ukraine are, and it was palpable at the game; you could feel that in the rink.
Such is the healing power of sport.
For a few hours, the world was normal and nice. Two teams, playing a game they love, in front of adoring fans. For a brief moment in time, the unspeakable agony of relatives and friends lost in the war, of their homeland being destroyed, was overshadowed by talk of a pretty goal or a nice save.
The feeling in the building was the polar opposite of former president Donald Trump calling Putin a “genius” and “savvy” for his immoral and unprovoked war. How any rational person can look at the needless death and suffering of a people and compliment the war’s aggressor is beyond human comprehension, and it proves yet again what a vile and disgusting figure the former president is.
On this glorious night, all that ugliness was replaced by pride and happiness and love. And some really good hockey. Team Ukraine has speed, size and lots of skill.
The Hockey Can’t Stop Tour, which is raising money for humanitarian aid in Ukraine, is also being used by the Ukrainian team to prepare for the upcoming World University Games.
Whatever happens at those games, the players from Ukraine will never forget the amazing reception they received in Manitoba.