‘Very special opportunity’: U of M Bison ready to host Ukrainian U25 national hockey team

It’s not often that hockey teams play a brand new opponent midway through the season, but that’s the case for the University of Manitoba Bisons.

“This is going to be a very special opportunity for our players, many who haven’t played international competition and many haven’t played at the Canada Life Centre so this is going to be an amazing experience for our players,” Bisons head coach Mike Sirant said.

The Bison are hosting the U25 Ukrainian National Team on Jan. 9 in the fourth and final game of the Hockey Can’t Stop Tour.

Read more: Ukraine team’s Hockey Can’t Stop Tour kicks off in Saskatoon

These matchups are used as preparation for the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games but also serve as a fundraiser supporting those in the war-torn country.

Story continues below advertisement

“It’s more than just sports,” Sirant said. “We are trying to make this a cultural event too for the players on both teams.”

Cultural events start Sunday with a Ukrainian Christmas being held for players. After Monday’s game, the Bisons will have a reception with their opponents.

“It gives us a chance to meet some new faces and talk with other players,” Bisons forward Codey Behun said. “We are all hockey players so we’re going to have good conversations.”

This international contest for the Bisons means more than just facing an unknown opponent.

Many players, including Sirant, have Ukrainian heritage.

Read more: Water blessing ceremony held in Montreal in solidarity with people of Ukraine

“I grew up around it,” Bisons goalie Ross Hawryluk said. “My baba and my gido are very Ukrainian and I grew up around Ukrainian food. We grew up in Elk Point, Alta., and my sister did Ukrainian dancing growing up.”

Behun adds that every year at Christmas, his family continues with their Ukrainian traditions.

Proceeds from the game and merchandise will go towards supporting hockey safety and youth training for young players in Ukraine.

Story continues below advertisement

“I’m really proud to a part of an event where the Bison can help contribute to humanitarian aid in the Ukraine and help to continue to develop hockey in the Ukraine,” Sirant said.

More than 5,000 tickets have been sold or given away for the game, with more still available on Ticketmaster.

Puck drop is 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 9, and the game will start with the Hoosli Ukrainian Male Chorus singing both national anthems.

Sponsored content