Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games

Written and Interviews By: Brandon Averitt, SUNY Canton Sports Management

Canton, N.Y.- Ukraine’s Men’s Ice Hockey team earned their first win of the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games over Sweden on Monday, January 16. This win gave a much needed spark to not only the Ukrainian team and coaches, but to their families and fans back home as well.

“Everyone in the world has seen the news about what’s happening in our country,” Ukrainian Forward Artem Mateichenko said following the victory on Monday night. Ukraine has been defending against a Russian invasion since February of 2022. This has led to Ukrainian citizens having to evade missile strikes, endure constant power outages, and a lack of internet and cellular coverage. In November 2022, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that Russia had damaged 40% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

“There’s no electricity in Ukraine right now. There’s only two hours when people can charge their phones, yet people still support us and believe we will win,” Ukrainian Defensemen Arsen Paliichuk said. “We try to do everything we could so the people back home can enjoy our victory as well.”

“We had some psychological problems before the game,” Ukraine Head Coach Vadym Shakhraychuk said following the win over Sweden. The team had a crushing overtime loss to Latvia on January 14, only to find out that the city of Dnipro, Ukraine, had been attacked by missile strikes, leaving a still rising death toll of 40 people and injuring 72 others. “Coach gave us a motivational speech before the game,” Paliichuk said. “We were motivated to win this game so the people back home could have some kind of hope and something to believe in over there.”

Mateichenko compared his team’s mentality to the Ukrainian forces putting their lives on the line in defense of their country. “Our military is out there fighting on the battlefield, so we have to fight here on the ice.” This mentality carried the Ukrainian men to an outstanding 12-2 win over Sweden. This not only gave the team a spark of hope for making a run in this tournament, but also gives a spark of hope for the Ukrainian citizens back home rooting for their team to keep fighting.

Ukraine is fairly new to international ice hockey as their Men’s National team did not start competing until 1993. “We’re not really a hockey country, but our goal is to become one,” Paliichuk said. “Every day our team and the national team improves and is getting to the next level.”

“Sweden is a hockey country,” Shakhraychuk added how important the victory over Sweden is for Ukrainian hockey. Many of the countries, such as Canada and Sweden, competing in the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games are home to renowned hockey programs, and Ukraine is once again showing their defiance of the odds by continuing to compete in international ice hockey. “We appreciate [FISU] for inviting Ukraine, it’s a big honor for us,” Mateichenko said. “It’s a great opportunity to show the world we have a good hockey team.”

It’s clear that this Ukraine Men’s Ice Hockey team believes there is more at stake in these games than just winning a medal. Even after an amazing victory over a great team, the Ukrainian players and coaches still have their mindset on the safety of their family and friends back home. Each game is a gold medal match for this team as they bear the weight of their country on their shoulders and hope to inspire their families back home.

PHOTO COURTESY: Caroline Butler