Russia-Ukraine war and hockey inextricably linked in Alberta

Russia-Ukraine war hockey
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VEGREVILLE, Alberta — 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.”

The family had Oilers tickets during the franchise’s glory days of the 1980s and early ’90s when it won the Stanley Cup five times as hockey’s last real dynasty. Zeleny prepared to go to the game that night against the Washington Capitals planning to boo Alex Ovechkin, who has long voiced his support for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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.”

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    Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

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    Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

    SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

    Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

    Game 4 is Saturday night.

    Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

    Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

    His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

    The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

    It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

    Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

    Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

    As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

    But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.


    Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.

    Blackhawks, Athanasiou agree to 2-year, $8.5 million contract

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    Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
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    CHICAGO — The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks locked in one of their top scorers, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

    The 28-year-old Athanasiou tied for the team lead with 20 goals and ranked third with 40 points in his first season with Chicago. He matched career highs with four game-winning goals and three power-play goals.

    The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Athanasiou has 125 goals and 111 assists in 459 games with the Detroit Red Wings (2015-20), Edmonton Oilers (2020), Los Angeles Kings (2020-22) and Blackhawks.

    Chicago went 26-49-7 and finished last in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dealt Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers prior to the trade deadline and announced in April they would not re-sign Jonathan Toews, parting with two players who led them to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

    Florida Panthers in familiar territory, backs to the wall once again down 0-2 in Stanley Cup Final

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sport

    SUNRISE, Fla. — The Panthers need a miracle. Again.

    Such is the story of Florida’s season, and it makes all the sense in the world that the plot has reappeared in the Stanley Cup Final. The Panthers needed a furious late-season push just to get into the playoffs as the lowest seed, then needed to win three consecutive elimination games to oust a record-setting Boston team in Round 1.

    And now, another huge challenge awaits. Down 2-0 in the title series to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Panthers return to home ice on Thursday night looking to spark one more epic turnaround and get right back in the hunt for hockey’s biggest prize.

    “Desperation and winning a game,” Florida veteran Marc Staal said. “We’ve approached every game in the playoffs the same way. We just try to take it – like everyone says – one at a time. But our backs are against the wall, obviously. We’re down by two. But we’re coming home. Love our team, love our resiliency. We’re going to go out and give our best effort and play our best game tomorrow and go from there.”

    To say the odds are stacked high against the Panthers is a bit of an understatement.

    – They’ve beaten Vegas in four of 12 all-time meetings between the franchises. And now they’ve got to beat them in four of the next five games to win the Cup.

    – They’ve been outscored 10-2 in the last four periods against Vegas.

    Matthew Tkachuk has two more misconduct penalties (three) than he has points (one, a goal) in the series.

    – Former Panthers Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith have as many goals so far in the series (four) as all the current Panthers do in the series, combined.

    – Vegas hasn’t dropped four out of five games since going 1-2-2 to start a six-game road swing that began in late January.

    – Teams that start a Stanley Cup Final with two home wins have won the Cup 38 times in 41 past instances.

    But by now, Florida’s penchant for pulling off the improbable is well-known. Almost expected, really.

    “Of course, we’ve had three really tough series,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “Boston is a good example. We were down, we found a way, we started playing a little better, we found a way to come back and get out of there. Same thing here – we’ve just got to work a little harder, work a little smarter and find a way to win games.”

    They’ve done it before.

    There was the 6-0-1 stretch late in the season to hold off Pittsburgh for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The winning three elimination games against a Boston team that had the best regular season in NHL history in Round 1; Game 5 there was on the road in overtime, Game 6 required a rally late in the third period to erase a 5-4 deficit and Game 7 was another road OT victory. There was a four-overtime win at Carolina in the East final, setting the table for a sweep where the Panthers got four one-goal wins and allowed only six goals.

    They’ve given up 12 goals in two games against Vegas. And it’s not all on Sergei Bobrovsky, either. Panthers coach Paul Maurice found it funny that it was considered a surprise to some that Bobrovsky – who carried Florida to the final round – will remain the starter for Game 3.

    “He was outstanding in Game 1,” Maurice said. “And he was as good as our team was in Game 2.”

    The message was simple: Everyone has to be better. The Panthers have a history of rising to those moments.

    “We never lose doubt in this room,” Florida forward Ryan Lomberg said. “Obviously, they’re a good team. They got here for a reason. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s kind of the theme of our whole year is we make it tough. Whether we wanted it this way or not, it’s this way, so we’ve got to play the hand we’re dealt now.”

    NOTES: Maurice said he expects D Radko Gudas, who left Game 2 injured, to play in Game 3. Forward Eetu Luostarinen will remain out. Maurice declined to offer specifics on Luostarinen’s injury, but quipped “he’s a good human.” … Thursday will be Florida’s first Stanley Cup Final game on home ice in FLA Live Arena. The Panthers’ 1996 final appearance was at a long-demolished arena in Miami.

    Flyers trade Pride-night boycott defenseman Provorov in 3-team deal

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    PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers have traded Ivan Provorov, sending away the defenseman who boycotted the team’s Pride night as part of a three-team trade that included the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings.

    The seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft, the 26-year-old Provorov lands in Columbus and is set to enter the fifth season of a $40.5 million, six-year contract. He was the centerpiece Tuesday of the first major move under new Flyers’ leadership.

    There were plenty of moving parts in the three-team deal.

    — Philadelphia traded Provorov and forward Hayden Hodgson to Los Angeles in exchange for goalie Cal Petersen, defenseman Sean Walker, defenseman Helge Grans and the Kings’ 2024 second-round pick. The Kings lost in the first round of the playoffs.

    — Columbus acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton from Philadelphia in exchange for a 2023 first-round pick (22nd overall) and a conditional second-round pick in either the 2024 or 2025 NHL Draft. Columbus acquired Provorov from Los Angeles in exchange for Connauton.

    The Flyers already hold the No. 7 pick in this season’s draft and now also have the 23rd pick as they start accumulating key assets for long-range success in what is expected to be a deep draft.

    Flyers general manager Danny Briere had said no player was untouchable after the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third straight season and went to work with the Stanley Cup Final still underway. The Flyers named broadcaster Keith Jones team president last month and he is still working the Final for TNT. But it’s clear the overdue rebuild is underway for a franchise that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 48 years.

    “We felt that the picks and the direction that we wanted to go in, it was really enticing, very exciting,” Briere said. “We have a chance to really start building the team the way we wanted. The right way.”

    Briere said the Flyers are “open for business” this summer and that included potentially listening to offers for No. 1 goalie Carter Hart. Coach John Tortorella, Briere and Jones have all tempered offseason expectations for any fan looking for a quick fix. The trio all insist the Flyers have a cohesive plan for the future.

    Provorov had 65 goals and 217 points in 532 career games with the Flyers. The Russian was widely criticized in January when he cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in pregame warmups when the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape.

    “I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said after the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

    Now, he’s traded during Pride month.

    Briere said the backlash over Pride night had nothing to do with trading Provorov.

    The Blue Jackets, who missed the playoffs this season, were ready to take a flier on a defenseman seemingly with many productive years ahead.

    “Improving our blue line has been a priority for us and acquiring Ivan gives us an established left-shot defenseman who is still a young player with his best seasons in front of him,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He immediately improves our group on defense as he is durable, has great skill, skates well, is an excellent passer with an accurate shot and can effectively play at both ends of the ice.”

    Provorov said at the end of the season he wasn’t necessarily happy the Flyers planned to rebuild but understood the decision. Briere declined to say if Provorov wanted out of Philadelphia.

    “I wouldn’t say it’s the most positive news you can hear, but there’s a bright future here, and there’s a lot of great players that can keep growing,” Provorov said in April. “Obviously, it depends on how quick everybody gets better and how quickly the team game gets better. I think that’s what determines the length of the rebuild.”

    Turns out, the potential success out of the haul the Flyers got for Provorov just may determine the length of the rebuild.