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Canadian Friends of Hockey in Ukraine celebrate 5 years

Mar 5, 2024 | Community, Featured

The delegation of the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine and Canadian Friends of Hockey in Ukraine suited up for a friendly match in Winnipeg’s Billy Mosienko Arena in December 2021. The IHFU delegation was in Winnipeg to see how hockey works in Canada, from pee-wee to pro levels. The game was organized by the late Danny Schur (1966-2023), seen here in the goalie pads and Habs jersey; CFHU’s Treasurer and co-founder Nestor Budyk (1952-2023) stands on the far right. Vichnaya Pamyat Danny and Nestor! We shall continue what you helped start! (CFHU/Norbert Iwan)

Stefko Bandera, CFHU Winnipeg.

Canadian Friends of Hockey in Ukraine (CFHU) celebrated its fifth anniversary in Winnipeg on December 1 with its annual winter fundraiser, hosting five young hockey players from Ukraine currently playing in Manitoba. Aged between seven and 16, Kyrylo, Luka Fedir, Stanislav; and Denys from Netishyn, Lutsk, Odesa, Ivano-Frankivsk and Kryvyi Rih, and their families were the stars of the evening.

From Ukraine, Kyrylo, Luka Fedir, Stanislav; and Denys are now playing hockey in Canada with support from the Canadian Friends of Hockey in Ukraine. (CFHU)

“After eight years in Ukraine, and two years in Poland, I thought I was finished with hockey,” Denys Babenko , the eldest of the bunch, told the crown in excellent English, ”and here I am still playing the game I love the most.” He thanked his parents, CFHU, its supporters and the Winnipeg Bruins, where he plays on the first offensive line.

In Ukraine, Babenko played hockey the first youth division of Kryvyi Rih and the National under 13 and 14 teams in 2019-21. His family moved to Poland where he played hockey in 2021-23 for the Tyski Levy and twice earned “player of the game.” In Winnipeg he tried out and made the Winnipeg Bruins’ AAA U-17 team. “Please come out to a Bruins game and see me play!” Babenko urged the crowd of two hundred gathered at Hooters Restaurant and Sports Bar in Winnipeg.

The evening included live and silent auctions for hockey memorabilia and collectibles. Wayne Babych, 50-goal scorer for the St. Louis Blues, thanked everyone for taking part. “We couldn’t do this without you,” Wayne told everyone gathered to celebrate CFHU’s fifth anniversary.

It was back in 2018 that Wayne and his brother and fellow NHL great Dave Babych traveled to Ukraine to put on a skills camp for young hockey players in Novoyavorivsk; they returned the following year for a similar camp in Kyiv, and plans were in the works to return to Ukraine before Russia launched its bloody war.

Fifty-goal scorer Wayne Babych (St. Louis Blues) with defenseman Luka Lutsyk of Lutsk (Winnipeg Twins) and foreword Denys Babenko of Kryvyi Rih (Winnipeg Bruins) at CFHU’s fifth anniversary celebration in Winnipeg on December 1, 2023. Before the war, Luka Lutsyk played with Lutsk Sparta with support from CFHU. (Photo: CFHU)

CFHU hosted a delegation from the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine, led by its president Heorhiy Zubko, and organized a program that allowed the Ukrainian hockey administrators and managers to see how hockey is organized in Manitoba, from pee-wee to the pros in the NHL.

In December 2021, CFHU became a project of the Canada Ukraine Foundation and its activities towards the goals of fostering the development of hockey for youth in Ukraine, offering high-level coaching and training to young players, collecting and distributing new and gently-used hockey equipment, and facilitating hockey exchanges between Canada and Ukraine. In 2021 CFHU hosted a delegation from the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine, led by its president Heorhiy Zubko, and organized a program that allowed the Ukrainian hockey administrators and managers to see how hockey is organized in Manitoba, from pee-wee to the pros in the NHL.

Despite the war, kids continue playing the great game in Ukraine, and CFHU continues to receive request for support from youth hockey programs across Ukraine.

From 2018-2023, CFHU received request from 13 hockey clubs, and has delivered more than 160 sets of hockey equipment to twelve teams, including five complete goalies sets. In late 2022, CFHU’s Dennis Kowalsky visited six of the youth hockey teams CFHU has supported with equipment to see it at work.

When CFHU was founded five years ago, it began with the idea of taking Canadian-style hockey to Ukraine in the best way possible: practice with NHL stars. Wayne and Dave Babych answered the call.

The, CFHU added equipment shipments to Ukraine. It’s sourced and paid for here, in Canada, and the kids in Ukraine get sets equipment.

The war forced CFHU to change the scope of its activities and received appeals from refugee children navigating the demanding and expensive Canadian hockey system, who are now playing for the Winnipeg Bruins, Winnipeg Winter Hawks, Winnipeg Twins, St. James Canucks, Grand Plains Hawks and Dauphin Kings.

But what is amazing is that hockey continues to be played in Ukraine. Parents of child hockey players in Ukraine have told CFHU that there are so many good kids in Ukraine who can become great hockey players if they are given a fair, free chance.

Last winter, they played with limited lighting due to the winter air strikes that knocked out power. Diesel generators provided a bit of light, but not enough power to fully cool the ice on days that it was not cold. That was last winter, and the next winter, 2023-2024 is upon us.

One parent told CFHU that “it’s been really tough on the kids. From Covid to the full-scale invasion, they lost several years of normal childhood.” He thanked CFHU for supporting the kids and “helping them catch up and fly on the ice.”

“It would be cool for a top trainer from Canada to come over and inspire the kids,” the parent told CFHU.

You can support the initiative by making a donation to the Canada-Ukraine Foundation.

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