The Winnipeg Jets may have scored an unusual NHL first in Tuesday night’s 8-4 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, but for many hockey fans in Manitoba and across the country, the game’s biggest highlight came before the puck was even dropped.
The Jets became the first team in league history to relinquish a four-goal lead before eventually winning by four goals, and the high-scoring game kicked off with a performance of the Canadian and Ukrainian anthems by Winnipeg’s own Hoosli Ukrainian Male Chorus.
For Hoosli members, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide support for and solidarity with the Ukrainian people on such a large stage.
“To have that opportunity yesterday was such an honour for us as part of the representation of the Ukrainian community here in Manitoba,” Hoosli’s Greg Udod told 680 CJOB.
“To be able to sing the Ukrainian anthem — which I’m sure many people there had never heard before — we sang it with as much pride as we could hold in our hearts … singing it so that — God willing — this message would get all over the world and to Ukraine to bolster people’s spirits there.”
The Ukrainian people remain under threat as war with neighbouring Russia continues to escalate, and the choir’s members said it was an opportunity to share their concerns with fellow Canadians.
“The words of the Ukrainian anthem are very powerful, and to have the opportunity to do it in the country we live in – here in Canada – is just beyond measure,” said Udod.
“To have that kind of support love and tolerance from fellow Canadians — who may be not directly affected by this but certainly are seeing and giving support now for such a tremendous cause.”
The anthem, with lines — translated to English — like “Ukraine’s glory has not yet died, nor her freedom” and “our enemies will perish like dew in the morning sun,” may not necessarily have been understood by those in the audience at Canada Life Centre, or who watched on TV, but the singers say the message was felt just the same.
“During the time of the invasion, such poignant lyrics, such a poetic representation of the Ukrainian spirit — to be able to share those words with everyone in the arena last night … was just a profound and humbling moment for us as a choir,” said Hoosli’s Chris Sklepowich.
After the game, Jets players reflected on the emotional pre-game performance.
“It was a beautiful job by them — a lot of emotion,” said Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois.
“It was a special moment everybody got to share together. I think everybody in the arena got goosebumps hearing both anthems.”