Let the games begin in Edmonton! Canada’s National Junior Team opens preliminary-round play at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship against Latvia, getting Group A action started with just the third meeting ever between the countries.
The Canadians looked good early in their 4-3 pre-tournament win over Sweden on Monday night, getting goals 34 seconds apart from Nathan Gaucher and Mason McTavish midway through the first period and a power-play marker from Kent Johnson before the end of the opening frame for a 3-0 lead. Joshua Roy made it 4-1 early in the third before the Swedes made things interesting. Dylan Garand got the start between the pipes for Canada, stopping all 15 shots he faced before Sebastian Cossa turned aside eight of 11.
Latvia opened its Group A schedule on Tuesday afternoon, falling 6-1 to Finland. Bruno Bruveris was the standout between the pipes for the Baltic nation, finishing with 33 saves. Klavs Weinbergs provided the lone goal for the Latvians, converting on a power play early in the third period.
It has been almost six years since Canada and Latvia met at the World Juniors. Taylor Raddysh was the offensive star on Dec. 29, 2016, registering just the fourth four-goal game by a Canadian and adding an assist for good measure in a 10-2 win. Dylan Strome recorded four assists, Kale Clague had three and Matthew Barzal scored twice for Canada, which netted its 10 goals on just 35 shots.
WHAT TO WATCH
How about the season Kent Johnson had in 2021-22? The 19-year-old played in the IIHF World Junior Championship, the Olympic Winter Games, the IIHF World Championship and the NCAA Frozen Four, and made his NHL debut with the Columbus Blue Jackets. And all of that happened between December and May. So the product of Port Moody, B.C. – an alternate captain with Team Canada – is going to leaned upon for his experience … and his offence. Johnson had 37 points in 32 games with a star-studded University of Michigan team.
Latvia is back at the World Juniors for the first time since 2017, and its roster includes a number of players who are no stranger to North American hockey. Five ply their trade in the USHL, another five have CHL experience (three in the QMJHL, one in the OHL and one in the WHL) and three are enrolled at U.S. colleges. So there won’t be a fear factor when it comes to playing the physical brand of hockey Canadian entries are typically known for at the tournament.
A LOOK BACK
Other than the game mentioned above from the 2017 World Juniors, Canada and Latvia have only met one other time.
That game, a Boxing Day matchup at the 2010 tournament in Saskatchewan, featured plenty of offence from the Canadians. Gabriel Bourque tied the single-game record with seven points (3-4—7) and Jordan Eberle, Brandon Kozun, Patrice Cormier, Nazem Kadri and Luke Adam each scored a pair of goals in a 16-0 win.
VEGREVILLE, Alberta (AP) — Sergiy Ivanyuk didn’t sleep the first 10 nights. His mind is on his mother in his hometown of Kyiv and his girlfriend and her two children who are sheltering to stay safe amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He wakes from what little rest he can muster and checks his phone each morning for the latest updates.
“You just shake,” he said. “It’s terrible.”
Ivanyuk is fresh off the ice after running practice for the junior hockey Vegreville Vipers. The team captain is 20-year-old fellow Ukrainian Mykyta Protsenko, whose sister remains in Ukraine, and the members of this tight-knit community of 5,700 people with heavy ties to his homeland are working to get her out.
Hockey can’t solve their problems or end the war that stirs up anger, disbelief and grief among those in Northern Alberta, one of the biggest centers of Ukrainian heritage and culture in the world. But the sport is the backbone of the community, equal parts refuge from the horror and rallying point for people who can’t help but feel helpless about a crisis thousands of miles away.
“Sometimes it’s hard,” said Protsenko, a native of the hard-hit city of Kharkiv who is one of the top players for Vegreville in the Can-Am Junior Hockey League. “Sometimes you’re focused, sometimes you’re not. It all depends. Every day brings something new. Town helps and team helps and everybody helps how they can help.”
In Ukrainian-Canadian communities in Alberta, hockey is a welcome constant. From the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames down to youth leagues, teams are playing the Ukrainian anthem, raising funds for humanitarian and military aid, and trying to use the sport for whatever good they can.
Members of Vegreville’s under-18 team asked minor hockey association president Tina Warawa if they could play the Ukrainian anthem before “O Canada” at games. She noticed a couple of players tearing up while listening to the song.
“They said: ’We get to stand here today at our age and play hockey and enjoy this game. There’s kids the same age as us in Ukraine that are picking up a weapon and they’re fighting for their country and their lives,’” she recalled. “They’re absolutely understanding the gravity of what’s going on.”
The Vipers have a half-dozen players of Ukrainian descent, along with Protsenko. Warawa and town officials are also trying to figure out a way to bring Protsenko’s 16-year-old sister to Canada. Vipers general manager Bryan Brown said, “We really don’t know what to do for him but support him.”
Protsenko’s biggest focus is sharing information and battling misinformation online.
“It is so weird to see your hometown being bombed and you’re just watching the news and it’s like, oh, I’ve been to that house. Oh, that’s my friend’s house,” he said. “Or I’ve been walking with my grandmother there. It’s so weird to see that, and it’s so terrifying.”
Ivanyuk said he saw video of an missile-hit area in Kyiv that was home to the arena where he began playing hockey.
“I was just crying,” he said.
Coaching is the 44-year-old’s escape.
“When you’re on the ice, you just concentrate on hockey,” Ivanyuk said. “You just go in a different world, and you just put everything to the side. And when you (are done), you just come back and start working, start thinking, start helping and stuff like that.”
Few know better about the support of the Ukrainian-Canadian community in Alberta than Ivanyuk, who moved to Edmonton in April 2011 with little money and no ability to speak English. He slept in his car and endured subzero temperatures, read books to learn the language and was welcomed with open arms when he went to the local Ukrainian church seeking help.
Within a week of arriving, he had a place to sleep, eat and shower, and he found work in Calgary to get his Canadian dream on track. Now he pays it forward by giving advice to younger Ukrainians who move there, while also making his impact on hockey by coaching.
“The whole community here is so tight,” he said. “It’s a small town, and everybody knows everybody.”
An hour’s drive west on Alberta Highway 16A, the Ukrainian community in Edmonton is larger but still just as tight.
Along the way, the red and white maple leaf flags blowing in the wind leave no doubt this is Canada, but every few kilometers there’s a nod to the native homeland of many in the area. Outside the gate of the Ukrainian Cultural village is a yellow sign reading, “Stand With Ukraine. On the edge of one farm outside Edmonton, a lone blue and yellow flag of Ukraine stands out on the snowswept prairie.
At Stawnichy’s Mundare Sausage House in the Alberta capital, Russia’s invasion is on the minds of everyone, from third-generation Ukrainian owner Colette Hennig and nephew Kyler Zeleny to the deli and restaurant’s employees. Sitting in her office next to a photo of her with Wayne Gretzky, who traces his family’s roots to Ukraine, Hennig gathers pins, scarves and candles to sell; they’ve already gone through every flag available in the area.
Customers share their stories of friends and family back home attempting to avoid the bombs and gunfire and escape to Europe or North America. There’s nothing more Ukrainian-Canadian than perogy poutine, and Zeleny is considering renaming the dish “Less Putin More Poutine” with proceeds going to a humanitarian foundation.
“The staff were discussing it that it’s even hard on them, although they don’t have anybody over there that they know — just hearing all the stories because everybody seems to have a connection,” said Hennig, who added that $10,000 has already been raised to help efforts in Ukraine. “It’s overwhelming, really, how everybody’s coming together. I just wish it didn’t have to be for this.”
Zeleny and his aunt don’t blame Ovechkin for limiting his statements about Ukraine, given the near-impossible situation the star winger has been put in with his wife, children and parents in Russia and concern over their safety. But that did not stop the booing from pockets of Rogers Place each time Ovechkin touched the puck.
The jeers came loudly from a suite featuring members of the Canada-Ukraine Foundation, the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress and others. But it’s less vitriol at Ovechkin than the situation itself, which has become a rallying point inside and outside hockey rinks.
“A lot of that negativity and a lot of the sadness and the heartbreak and the anger has been counterbalanced by this positivity and the support that’s around us,” foundation president Orest Sklierenko said. “And it’s all we can do from here to do these types of things.”
Helplessness is one of the prevailing emotions from Vegreville to Edmonton, where the war and response to it are part of so many conversations. The Oilers played the Ukrainian anthem before a previous game against the Montreal Canadiens and before facing the Capitals had the Viter Choir and Folk Ensemble sing the Canadian anthem in English and Ukrainian.
Oilers Entertainment Group executive VP of communications and gaming Tim Shipton, whose wife is of Ukrainian descent, said the cause meant a lot to the organization.
“We all know people in the community from Ukraine — it’s so woven into the fabric of Northern Alberta,” Shipton said. “We just wanted to play our small part in showing our support.”
Ivanyuk and Zeleny are among those already looking forward to the future and what the money raised will do to rebuild Ukraine after the war — whenever that is.
In the present, it’s not just about the money, and that was clear during and after one of Kozak Hockey’s games after the invasion began. Playing a disliked rival, the game had no penalties or cheap shots and the conversation in the parking lot after made it clear there was reverence and respect for the Ukrainian-Canadians.
“They said, ‘We know that we can be a certain way on the ice, but putting everything aside, this is unbelievable what’s happening,’” Kozak player Matt Karpiak said. “They said they feel for us, and they just wish nothing but the best for us and our families that are there.”