GOYANG, Korea – In what are turbulent times for their country, the veteran-studded Ukrainian national team stays united and aims for better results than in the past. But it won’t be easy for a team returning to the Division I Group A after earning promotion last year.
After protests leading to a change in government and the Crimea dispute with Russia, the focus on news channels right now is on eastern Ukraine including the city of Donetsk, which has become an important city on the hockey map with the establishment of Donbass Donetsk and the club’s move to the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League that made the club not only the richest and also by far the strongest in the country.
Recently, however, the club was not allowed to play some playoff home matches in Donetsk due to clashes between pro-Russian separatists and the authorities.
One could think that among the turmoil the Ukrainian national team might also be affected, since it also includes ethnic Ukrainians as much as ethnic Russians. Most recently, one Russian-born player, Yevgeni Belukhin, even obtained Ukrainian citizenship after having played in Ukraine for several years with the hope of making the team. And also the coaching language is Russian with former NHL enforcer Andrei Nazarov at the bench for both the national team and Donbass Donetsk. However, the team focuses on the sport and results trying to silence the background noise.
Ukraine played in the top division between 1999 and 2007 and some players of this era are still on the team. If you ask them about their goals, it becomes clear that they want to play with the best hockey nations again.
But that’s also the reason why it may be difficult. Some household names like former NHLer Sergi Varlamov, or Olexander Materukhin or Olexander Pobyedonostsev have been in their 30s for a while. While their dedication for their country is praiseworthy, it’s also a sign that there’s too little challenge from younger players.
The Ukrainians practised in the capital of Kyiv until last week and have already travelled to Russia’s Far East where they will play Japan and KHL teams Amur Khabarovsk and Admiral Vladivostok before taking a short flight to Seoul. While there are struggles going on between Ukraine and Russia, sport still manages to bring these countries together.
As of Sunday the Ukrainians will play their games further south where they will face Austria, Hungary, Japan, Slovenia and host Korea in the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A. The best two teams will be promoted to the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in the Czech Republic.
UPDATE: After Olexi Ponikarovsky another former NHLer will miss the event. Team captain Ruslan Fedotenko suffered a knee injury during the camp and will be out for four to six weeks.
Ukrainian roster for the camp in Khabarovsk (RUS)
Sergi Gaiduchenko, Donbass Donetsk (UKR/KHL)
Vadym Seliverstov, HK Astana (KAZ)
Mykhailo Shevchuk, Moloda Gvardia Donetsk (UKR/MHL)
Denys Petrukhno, Donbass Donetsk (UKR/KHL)
Olexander Pobyedonostsev, Titan Klin (RUS/VHL)
Denys Isayenko, Kompanion Kyiv (UKR)
Ruslan Borysenko, Kompanion Kyiv (UKR)
Igor Kugut, Bily Bars Bila Tserkva (UKR)
Danylo Skrypets, Moloda Gvardia Donetsk (UKR/MHL)
Yuri Navarenko, HK Gomel (BLR)
Mykola Ladygin, Hull Stingrays (GBR)
Olexander Toryanik, Donbass Donetsk (UKR/KHL)
Maxym Kvitchenko, Donbass Donetsk (UKR/KHL)
Sergi Varlamov, Donbass Donetsk (UKR/KHL)
Roman Blagy, Donbass Donetsk (UKR/KHL)
Viktor Zakharov, Donbass Donetsk (UKR/KHL)
Pavlo Padakin, Donbass Donetsk (UKR/KHL)
Dmytro Nimenko, Kompanion Kyiv (UKR)
Artem Bondaryev, Bily Bars Bila Tserkva (UKR)
Oleg Tymchenko, Yunost Minsk (BLR)
Oleg Shafarenko, Yunost Minsk (BLR)
Andri Mikhnov, Metallurg Zhlobin (BLR)
Olexander Materukhin, Dynamo Minsk (BLR/KHL)
Yevgeni Belukhin, Donbass Donetsk (UKR/KHL)