QUEBEC CITY (AP) — The decision to have players from both teams line up arm-in-arm at center ice for the Ukrainian and United States national anthems was premeditated in what stood as a symbol of unity and solidarity.
What no one expected was the spontaneous celebration that erupted among the 11- and 12-year-olds after the Ukrainian national team’s 3-1 victory at the International Peewee Hockey Tournament on Saturday.
Instead of shuffling off the ice, members of the Boston Junior Bruins happily participated in a victory lap with the Chosen Ones, which ended with the teams reuniting at center ice, where they posed for pictures with one player on each side holding each other. ends of a large Ukrainian flag.
“First of all, it’s a message that everyone can be friends and should be friends and live in peace and respect each other,” Ukrainian striker Denys Lupandin said in a response translated by head coach Evgeny Pysarenko. “It doesn’t matter where you are from.”
The bonds made and the electric atmosphere of playing in front of about 18,000 fans at Quebec City’s Videotron Center were not lost on Boston goaltender James Boccuzzi.
“This was definitely a life-changing moment for me,” Boccuzzi said. “I’ve never experienced anything like it.”
The moments went far beyond fulfilling the message of peace that tournament organizers had hoped to send around the world nearly a year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began. And it exceeded the vision Pysarenko and Sean Berube had in August, when they began the lengthy process of assembling a team of Ukrainian refugees.
“The players reacted that way because they also want to show unity,” said Berube, who spent countless hours and about $20,000 of his own money traveling around Europe to rally the players in Romania. “What a day for hockey. What a day for sport.”
There was no shortage of drama in the game.
With Boccuzzi holding the fast-skating, playmaking Ukrainians to a series of big chances, Boston’s Kai Ochi opened the scoring 1:27 into the third period.
The pro-Ukraine – but not anti-Boston – crowd finally got a chance to cheer and chant “Ole, Ole, Ole” when Yehor Kosenko hit a puck jumper to tie the game at 4:48. Lupandin snuck in a faceoff shot with 2:04 remaining, then sealed the win with an empty-net goal.
Speaking in English, Lupandin said he and his teammates were nervous to open the game after being greeted by a large crowd.
“The first moment was so scary. I look up and too many people are looking at me and my team, and the first moment was so difficult, the first period,” he said. “But the second and third part, it was easy for me and maybe for my team. And thanks to the fans who watch us.”
A large number of fans arrived three hours before puck drop. White t-shirts with the words “UKRAINE” written on them were draped over the backs of the chairs in one section. In another, a blue-and-yellow version of the Canadian flag was attached to a fence.
In Section 113, Roger Poirier carried a Ukrainian flag while handing out blue and white handkerchiefs. Poirier, who is from Quebec City, became active in supporting Ukraine in part because he had a job there, during which he met his wife.
Jessica Anthony wore a Ukrainian flag T-shirt and matching yellow sweatpants. Although an avid hockey fan, she admitted that she doesn’t normally attend peewee games.
“I want to express my solidarity with Ukraine,” Anthony said.
The atmosphere was largely foreign to what Ukrainian elected officials had known for most of the past year. Many of them settled with their families as refugees in neighboring countries of Ukraine. At least five still live in Ukraine, where missile warning sirens in the middle of the night are common.
“I am honored to participate in this event and everyone who is in solidarity with us and supports our country,” said Pysarenko. “Everyone wants peace. These kids want peace probably because you don’t know their stories, but I’m telling you they have terrible times and terrible experiences.”
One of those experiences included a five-player trip to the Romanian border for the opening of training camp last month. Twice they saw rockets fly overhead.
It’s something Bruins assistant coach Mike Cashman couldn’t have imagined. He hoped that the Ukrainians would be able to enjoy the new memories they made at the tournament.
“I just hope that these kids from Ukraine, they just got the thrill of a lifetime like our players,” Cashman said. “You know, unfortunately, I don’t know what the future holds for them, but today I can look back on today and be really excited about the future.”
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