Home on ice: the 14-year-old Ukrainian athlete rediscovers his passion in Sask.  village hockey academy

Home on ice: the 14-year-old Ukrainian athlete rediscovers his passion in Sask. village hockey academy

A 14-year-old hockey player from Ukraine is getting back to the game he loves with the help of a coach and team in southwestern Saskatchewan.

Misha Shelipov says he was still practicing with his hockey team in Kharkiv the day before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

“My mother said: ‘The war has started.’ And come home,” Shelipov said.

Fleeing bombs in his hometown of Dnipro, Shelipov said his family headed to a smaller Ukrainian town before heading to Poland.

CLOCK | Saskatchewan City Helps Ukraine Teen Get Back On Ice:

Saskatchewan city helps teen from Ukraine get back on ice

How a Ukrainian teenager returns to playing hockey after fleeing the war. And it’s all thanks to one town in Saskatchewan.

From there, they contacted a hockey agent in Switzerland. That connection led Shelipov to Barret Kropf in Caronport, Sask., a town of about 1,000 people located 15 miles northwest of Moose Jaw, Sask.

“We heard that there is a player who was looking to continue playing hockey and find his way to Canada,” Kropf said.

“So we raised our hand and said, ‘Yeah, we’d love for him to be a part of our show.’

An older man wearing glasses and a winter jacket stands in front of an outdoor ice rink where hockey players play in the background.
Barret Kopf has coached hockey in Canada and internationally during his 30-year career. He also spent seven years as Chaplin for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. (Don Somers/CBC News)

Kropf, originally from Estevan, Sask., was hired last June as the U-15 general manager and head coach at Prairie Hockey Academy, Saskatchewan’s first accredited Hockey Canada school, based in Caronport.

Kropf started a GoFundMe to help with the relocation and used Ottawa’s fast track system to get Shelipov and his mother, Zina, to Canada within a calendar year.

“His first question when we picked him up at the airport, in Regina on December 18, was: ‘Coach, when can I go to practice?’ Eat, sleep and breathe hockey,” Kropf said.

Shelipov’s mother now works at the local village bakery, while the teenager began practicing and playing with the U15 preparation team.

“It’s a very good team and I like my friends here,” said Shelipov, who has found another reason to love his new country this winter.

“In Canada, we can skate whenever we want. Like we can go to an outdoor rink.”

A hockey player wearing a team jersey, helmet, and gloves holds his stick as he skates on an outdoor rink.
Misha Shelipov enjoys a friendly match with his U15 prep team at an outdoor rink in Moose Jaw, Sask. on January 13, 2023. (Don Somers/CBC)

His teammate Kane Domres and his family hosted the Shelipovs at Christmas last year. Domres, whom Shelipov calls his best friend, said the team has really welcomed its new striker.

“We’re grateful to have him on the team. It’s just a great experience,” Domres said.

Shelipov made his game debut for the U15 team on January 7 in Winnipeg. To mark his first meet in nearly a year, Shelipov’s teammates sent him out for a rookie spin.

“It was special to watch,” Kropf said. “You can’t take the smile off his face.”

‘I like playing here’

Last Friday, the team celebrated with a friendly hockey game at an outdoor rink in Moose Jaw. It marked another Canadian first for Shelipov, who will play his second game this weekend in Edmonton.

“Hockey was born in Canada,” he said. “I like playing here because it’s more difficult, more body controls… I like it.”

Your community is now coming together to bring the whole family together in Caronport. Shelipov’s father and his two younger sisters, ages one and nine, are currently waiting for permits to come to Canada.

Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and sparked Europe’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II. As of November 2022, four humanitarian flights had landed in Saskatchewan, bringing approximately 3,000 Ukrainians as of that date.

Meanwhile, Shelipov and his mother have already settled into an apartment, with furniture donated by the surrounding community, preparing to accommodate the rest of the family once they are together again.

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