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‘This opportunity is just unbelievable’: Calgary Canucks invite Ukraine U18 team to train

Ukraine’s U18 men’s hockey team hit the ice for training camp at the Ken Bracko Arena at Max Bell on Monday morning.

They’re getting ready for the upcoming Division 1A World Championships, which will be played in Denmark in April.

Assistant coach Ruslan Borysenko says because of the war, they couldn’t have had training camp in his home country.

“It wouldn’t be possible for us to run any kind of training camp back home because of the bombing. … This opportunity is just unbelievable,” he said.

Helping out an easy decision

The Calgary Canucks wanted to help out, so they extended the olive branch to the team from Ukraine.

Head coach Brad Moran says it was a no-brainer and giving back to the hockey community is what it’s all about.

“It’s just helping the hockey community when they needed an opportunity to bring their team together and prep for a major tournament,” Moran said.

“That’s tough to show up on Day 1 without getting your team together and I think we had some relationships, met some people and it seemed like an idea we could throw out there and I’m glad it came together.”

Grateful to the Canucks

Players like defenceman Illia Marintsev are also glad it came together.

He says they’re all grateful to the Canucks.

“It’s a great opportunity to be here,” the 17-year-old said.

“I’m lucky to be here. Not every person can be here and I’m a lucky one and the rest of us here are grateful for the opportunity.”

First day of camp

The team looked a little rusty on the first day of training camp but that’s to be expected because this is the first time they’ve all been together as a team.

The best will make the U18 national team and the week-long training camp will feature a pair of games against an all-star U18 squad from Alberta.

Forward Danyla Bereza says it was great to be on the ice.

“First practice was kind of tough. I guess you can see it right here,” he said as he pointed to a welt under his eye.

“It was a couple of tough battle drills but we’ll be fine. We have enough practice before our two charity matches, so I think we’ll be fine.”

Support always appreciated

Initiatives like this help lift the spirit of the people from Ukraine.

Aleksandra Slatvytska, vice-president of the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine, says this is further proof of the support that’s out there for her home country both on the ice and in the war.

“It’s really important for our kids to stay on the ice,” she said.

“It’s really important for our people to continue to believe that Ukraine is going to win during such tough times.”

Team Ukraine will play its first game at the Division 1A Championships on April 14, against Japan.

The two exhibition games against the U18 all-star team from Alberta will be played at the Ken Bracko Arena at Max Bell on Thursday night and Saturday afternoon.

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