Sat. Dec 3rd, 2022

The international community is coming together to give a group of young Ukrainians the opportunity to compete on the ice in Canada.

“I’m very happy to go to Canada to play against some of the best teams there,” Ukrainian goalkeeper Savva Serdiuk told reporters.

Serdiuk and his teammates from the Ukrainian U25 men’s hockey team will come to Canada in the coming months to play against four university teams from Western Canada in the “Hockey Can’t Stop Tour” in preparation for the upcoming tournament and to raise money for their war a broken country.

Alberta is home to one of the largest populations of Ukrainian expats in Canada and the world.

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Serdiuk, 18, also plays for Sokil Kyiv in the Ukrainian Hockey League.

When Russian forces invaded Ukraine, Kyiv was among the targets of the first round of airstrikes on February 24.

And on Wednesday, another airstrike cut off electricity and water for most Ukrainians in the country.

“My Sokil team trained almost every day. Sometimes we don’t have electricity, water and similar things,” said Serdiuk. “So it’s quite difficult to practice in Ukraine.”

Ukrainian goalkeeper Savva Serdiuk talks to reporters from Kyiv on November 24, 2022.

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The Canadian tour is a rare opportunity for young Ukrainians. As the Russian invasion enters its tenth month, most men in Ukraine between the ages of 18 and 60 are barred from leaving the country without permission from the federal government.

Dmitri Khristich, Ukraine’s assistant coach and former NHLer, said that in addition to escaping the war-torn country for a while, the tour is an opportunity for his players to showcase their hockey skills.

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“From all points of view, this is a really good opportunity for us to show that Ukrainian hockey is still alive, Ukrainian hockey has a future,” Khristich said.

Head coach Vadym Shakhraychuk, who represented Ukraine at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, added that the U25 team represents a new vision of Ukrainian hockey.

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The war came as a surprise to the Ukrainian Ice Hockey Federation, which had been working to improve the sport in the European country earlier this year. Part of those plans was the construction of 19 hockey rinks across the country.

“We really believed that we can build hockey as an example for other types of sports, because in Ukraine… and most of the post-Soviet countries, there is a big different kind of difficulty for children to have equal opportunities to play any kind of sport,” said the executive director Oleksandr Slatvytska.

“No one expected war. No one expected that in one day all our lives would change forever.”

Only four arenas in the country are in working order. All arenas in communities such as Donetsk, Mariupol and Kherson became victims of the war.

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A newborn baby has been killed in an air strike on a maternity hospital in Ukraine, officials say

While the young professional is no stranger to being away from his family, Serdiuk anticipates taking care of his family while on Canadian soil.

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“I’m really worried about my family because they are in Kiev, in Ukraine, and it’s still dangerous here. There’s no water, no electricity, things like that, and it’s really hard to live their life.”

The coaches of the four men’s hockey teams at the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, the University of Manitoba and the University of Saskatchewan talked to some of their players about visiting the Ukrainian team.

Huskies head coach Brandin Cote said this is an opportunity for the players to learn what is happening to their peers on the other side of the world.

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“We have no idea what it’s like there. And that’s why I think any information we can give our players to fully understand what the challenges are (in Ukraine),” Cote told reporters.

“Having opportunities for our players, to talk to players from the (Ukrainian) team and really try to better understand what they’ve been through or what they’re going through from a family level, from a sports level, is going to be very beneficial for our players moving forward in their lives , to really appreciate what they have.”

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University of Calgary Dinos head coach Mark Howell said his team’s leadership is excited about the opportunity to play and help the players from Ukraine.

“They were humble and really respectful of the opportunity, and I think it just allows them to think about how grateful they are to have what we have here and not have to worry about anything that’s going on (in Ukraine),” Howell said. .

The idea for the tour came when announcer Gord Miller spoke with Slatvytska in Edmonton at the World Junior Championships in August. Miller had a conference call with the Canada West head coaches and soon began working on the schedule.

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Scheduling conflicts prevented the group from booking Rogers Place in Edmonton or the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, but Winnipeg Jets executive chairman Mark Chipman offered the Canada Life Centre.

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“So it’s an exciting opportunity for the Ukrainian team to play in an NHL building and in front of, hopefully, a big crowd,” Miller said.

Serdiuk and his team will play games in four cities across Western Canada, facing the men’s college hockey teams in those cities:

  • December 30, 2022 against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies at Merlis Belsher Place.
  • January 2, 2023, against the University of Calgary Dinos at Father David Bauer Arena.
  • January 3, 2023, against the University of Alberta Golden Bears at Clare Drake Arena.
  • Jan. 9, 2023, against the University of Manitoba Bisons at the Canadian Life Centre.

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Live streaming and donation links will also be available on the Canada West website.

Funds from the four games will go to humanitarian causes in Ukraine and Canada, as well as to a foundation run by the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine.

From there, the Ukrainian team will play in the Winter University Games in Lake Placid, New York until January 23.

Until then, Serdiuk will continue to practice his craft, wherever and whenever he can.

“It’s a kind of escape for me. It’s probably one of the best things in my life. And when I come to practice every morning, I feel like I’m in a safe place with my friends.”

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– with files from the Associated Press and The Canadian Press