QUEBEC CITY — Ukraine Team Select’s dream run at the Quebec International Peewee Hockey Tournament came to an end Friday with a 2-1 loss to Vermont Flames Academy.
After the game, a Ukrainian flag was displayed on the ice with the name of one of the players’ fathers who died in combat and the name of another father who is currently fighting on the front lines.
The team of young refugees will remain in the province until Monday and have a full schedule of winter activities before returning to their war-torn country or to neighboring countries.
Coach Evgheniy Pysarenko said that although the team is upset about losing, the players had a great experience.
“They represented their country in this difficult situation. That is why they wanted to win so hard. We missed a couple of chances, and I don’t know — luck wasn’t on our side, unfortunately,” Pysarenko said. “But they fought until the end. And they didn’t give up. It’s great. Strong characters.
“They also represent the people who are fighting now.”
Phillip Groeling and Kuba Pavlik staked Vermont to a 2-0 lead before Oleksii Shkrabak answered for Ukraine late in the third period.
The Ukrainian team’s presence has placed a larger global spotlight on the 63-year-old tournament with the nearly yearlong war showing signs of once again escalating. The Selects are regarded as symbol of peace for Ukraine and hope for a better future, and they’ve merited mention from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Quebec City businessman Sean Bérubé, who helped get the Ukrainian team to Quebec, said the purpose was for them to have fun and forget about the hardships back home.
“They are such a great group of kids. I found them very mature for their age, and I have been quite impressed by them,” Bérubé said. “And going through all of the media attention that they had and how they stayed focused, and to see them training so hard during practice, they earned my respect. And I am pretty proud they call me Uncle Sean.”
The Ukrainian team of 11- and 12-year-olds became the toast of the tournament after scoring a pair of victories in the tournament’s Class AA division.
“The best memory is probably when they smile and laugh and when they feel good and forget about the war,” Pysarenko said. “That is the best.”
The squad defeated Team Romania Wolves 2-0 on Monday after handing the Boston Junior Bruins a 3-1 loss on Saturday. Following the victory over the Wolves, the team was hosted by the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday at practice and at their game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Ukrainian players got to sit on the Canadiens’ bench for pregame warmups and received fist bumps and pucks from players. The Canadiens also presented a welcome video in the first period highlighting the youngsters’ path through the tournament, and the Ukrainian team received an ovation from the crowd.
“People welcomed us very warmly,” Pysarenko said. “We saw a lot of things, [we saw] the NHL game and the kids had a great experience. Thank you.”