A 14-year-old hockey player from Ukraine returns to his beloved game with the help of a coach and team in southwest Saskatchewan.
Misha Shelipov says he was still training with his ice hockey team in Kharkiv the day before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
“My mother said, ‘The war has started.’ And to come home,” Shelipov said.
Fleeing bombs in her hometown of Dnipro, Shelipov said his family made their way to a smaller Ukrainian village before heading to Poland.
CLOCK | The city of Saskatchewan is helping a teenager from Ukraine get back on the ice:
From there they contacted an ice hockey agent in Switzerland. This connection took Shelipov to Barret Kropf in Caronport, Sask., a village of about 1,000 people located 15 miles northwest of Moose Jaw, Sask.
“We learned that there is a player who wants to continue playing hockey and find his way to Canada,” Kropf said.
“So we put our hands up and said, ‘Yeah, we’d love to have him in our program.’
Originally from Estevan, Sask., Kropf was hired last June as general manager and under-15 prep director at Prairie Hockey Academy, Saskatchewan’s first Hockey Canada-accredited school based in Caronport.
Kropf started GoFundMe to help with the move and used Ottawa’s Fast Track system to get Shelipov and his mother Zina to Canada within the calendar year.
“When we picked him up from Regina Airport on December 18th, his first question was, ‘Coach, when can I go to practice?’ He eats, sleeps and breathes hockey,” Kropf said.
Shelipov’s mother now works at the local village bakery while the teenager has started training and playing with the U15 prep team.
“It’s a very good team and I like my friends here,” said Shelipov, who found another reason to love his new country over the winter.
“In Canada we can skate whenever we want. Like we can go to an outdoor ice rink.”
Teammate Kane Domres and his family hosted the Shelipovs for Christmas last year. Domres, whom Shelipov calls his best friend, said the team have really welcomed their newest striker.
“We’re grateful to have him in the team. It’s just a great experience,” said Domres.
Shelipov made his game debut with the U15 team on January 7 in Winnipeg. Celebrating his first competition in almost a year, Shelipov’s teammates sent him on a rookie round.
“It was something special to see,” said Kropf. “You can’t get the smile off his face.”
“I like to play here”
Last Friday, the team celebrated with a hockey friendly at an outdoor ice rink in Moose Jaw. It was 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 harder, more body checks… I like it.”
His congregation is now gathering to reunite the whole family in Caronport. Shelipov’s father and two younger sisters, aged one and nine, are currently awaiting permission to come to Canada.
Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine has killed tens of thousands and created Europe’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II. As of November 2022, four humanitarian flights had landed in Saskatchewan, bringing in about 3,000 Ukrainians by that date.
Meanwhile, Shelipov and his mother have already settled into an apartment, with furniture donated by the surrounding community, and are preparing to accommodate the rest of the family once they are back together.