By Rodrigo Verney, January 17 2022—
There have been many moments in which the world has seen how sport has the power to change and inspire. It sticks a flag of resistance in the face of turbulent times. May that be Jesse Owens dominating the 1936 Olympics, the great use of South African rugby to unite a nation suffering from apartheid, or the Scotland-Germany unofficial football game amidst the Christmas truce. It is a glimpse of humanity among tragedies and, now, the University of Calgary Dinos men’s hockey team have had the honour to participate in this history too after hosting Ukraine’s U25 men’s national hockey team on January 2 at the Father David Bauer Arena.
Canada wasn’t their first stop though, as the team made its way through several different regions and countries. Since they left Kyiv, the group has been in a multitude of places before reaching Canada West’s eyes. These include Warsaw, Munich, and Toronto. Their trip is a fantastic display of perseverance and an ingenious way to keep playing the sport they love while helping the country that they represent through the support of the Ukrainian hockey team foundation. Many brands have joined together to make this tour possible with the help of Canada West. Companies like Tim Hortons, Sobeys, True North Sports and Entertainment, Heritage Frozen Foods Ltd. and VISAIC.TV have all taken part in helping their dream stay alive.
The number two ranked Dinos men’s hockey team welcomed the Ukrainian team as they made their way through their Hockey Can’t Stop Tour, a journey that aims to collect funds for refugees and those whose lives were impacted by the invasion. This was their second match of the tour after the team faced the Huskies on December 30, 2022. The Father David Bauer Arena saw a crowd of over 1,700 people sporting the blue and golden — a mark that will be remembered for years. The crowd was supportive of both teams and the night was marked by an overall atmosphere of playfulness and cheer.
The match began with excitement filling the air. Ukrainian flags were plastered on the glass. People hardly ever sat as they were unable to contain the excitement of such a historic match. The team entered the ice and greeted the fans before the match took place. The Dinos were welcoming and were just as excited to play them as the fans were.
“We are very excited to be hosting the Ukrainian U25 National Team and are appreciative of the opportunity to help raise funds for their communities. This will be a great challenge for our team as we prepare for the second half of the season and it is humbling to be part of this fundraising tour,” said Dinos head coach Mark Howell in an interview with the U of C.
The first third was relatively tamed. Both teams were focused on the win and the Ukrainian team made great use of fast break action to initiate some momentum. However, the Dinos were controlling the game even though they did not score. The Dinos had seven shots to goal in the first four minutes of play. An open shot by Bogdan Dyachenko scared the Dinos, but the stars of the night were our goalies who caught a combined 27 attempts with one goal making for an almost perfect 100 per cent saves night. Overall, a quiet start to dictate the pace and understand your opponent. It was then up to the second third to see how they would fair.
Both teams came in hot for the second as the Dinos stagnated a bit on offence which allowed the Ukrainian team to match their shot attempts 11 a piece. The game began with an impressive save by Carl Stankowski for the Dinos. However, things quickly changed as the Ukrainian team came back down the ice to score a minute later. Mykhailo Simchuk’s shot found the back of the net to give them the lead. The people erupted into cheer as the Father David Bauer Arena had the honour of hosting the first goal scored by them in the west. The Dinos kept pushing and later in the third were able to score twice. Once by Tyson Upper in a beautiful deflection goal and later by Bradley Schoonbaert to go to the last third with the lead.
The puck fell on the ice one final time as the Dinos pushed to make new scoring opportunities and take advantage of power plays. Although a lot of chances opened up, the Ukrainian goalie made sure to stop any puck flying his way and the Dinos were held for much of the period. Of course, a one-goal lead can be quite tempting. It only takes a single goal to tie but a 3-1 can be devastating at the final stretch. As the game was drawing to a close, Ukraine decided to take the goalie out in exchange for another skater. That gave them a momentum boost but didn’t result in much. The Dinos were able to take advantage of the open goal and score one more at the last minute. Dinos won 3-1.
The final buzzer rang and the Ukrainian team skated the rink waving and thanking the incredible support of their fans. Smiles were plastered on their faces as they shook hands with the Dinos team thanking them for the support and the game. It was a fantastic moment that none in attendance and in that game will forget.
“We really appreciate this tour. It’s good for us. Good for our fund, good for [future generations] in Ukraine. Canada really helped us.” said team captain Mykhailo Simchuk in a post-game interview with the U of C. He went on to comment on the atmosphere that night. “We all really appreciate the support,”
The Ukrainian team will now set their eyes on New York for the 2023 International University Sports Federation (FISU) Winter World University Games. They look excited to continue their tour and help their country.
“For us right now this is very important. Very emotional,” said Konstantin Simchuk, an assistant coach with the U25 team in an interview for SportsNet.