Oleksandra Slatvytska (left to right), executive director of Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine, head coach Vadym Shakmraichur, defenceman Andrii Grygoriev and goaltender Dmytro Kybritskiy answer questions during a media availability with members of the Ukrainian Men’s National Hockey Team, in Edmonton on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

‘Hard to leave’: Ukrainian hockey players determined to preserve sport during war

Some Ukrainian hockey players practising on the ice in Western Canada say hockey is life.

The Ukrainian men’s national team has been in the Prairies preparing for the 2023 Winter World University Games scheduled to start next week in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Due to intensified attacks on its infrastructure during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the country has experienced periods with no electricity, heat or running water, preventing the under-25 team from training at home.

The team has so far played the Saskatchewan Huskies in Saskatoon and the Calgary Dinos. They were to play the Alberta Golden Bears in Edmonton on Tuesday and the Manitoba Bisons next Monday.

Goalie Dmytro Kubritskiy said it was difficult for many of his teammates to leave Ukraine in order to play.

“It was hard to leave our families,” Kubritskiy told a news conference at Rogers Arena, home of the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers, on Tuesday.

“Some of our guys have weight on their soul.”

He said those on the team understand that it’s important for them to advance the sport for their country.

“For them, it’s inspiration to continue fighting,” said Oleksandra Slatvytska, executive director of the Ukraine Hockey Federation.

“For many of our citizens, hockey is inspiration.”

Slatvytska, whose husband is currently fighting in Ukraine, said arenas across the country are being used to store weapons and provide humanitarian relief during the war.

All ticket-sale profits from the team’s games in Canada, as part of the “Hockey Can’t Stop Tour,” are to go to the Canada-Ukraine Foundation to rebuild arenas destroyed in the war and to provide humanitarian aid.

Olesia Luciw-Andryjowycz, executive director of the foundation, said a hockey arena in the Donbas region of Ukraine was bombed on Monday.

“Russia is seeking to turn dark and cold into weapons against the people of Ukraine,” added Andriy Tovstiuk, a board member of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

“The humanitarian crisis is very real,” said Tim Shipton, executive vice-president of Oilers Entertainment Group.

The Oilers have pledged proceeds from the next 50/50 to the Canada-Ukraine Foundation.

Defenceman Andrii Grygoriev said that after experiencing hard times in his home country, being able to play in Canada is a big deal.

“We are so excited,” said Grygoriev, adding that his favourite hockey players include Oilers captain Connor McDavid and defenceman Darnell Nurse.

“I think Canada is the best country in the world for hockey.”

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