The path to the Calgary Royals AAA team for Mark Myronov and Danyil Denysenko didn’t look like that of most high-level 16-year-old hockey stars.
The Ukrainian teenagers immigrated to Calgary just five months ago after their last hockey season was interrupted by the Russian conflict in Ukraine.
They played hockey in Ukraine and Russia, but when the war between the two countries started earlier this year, their families started applying to come to Canada, the teenagers told Postmedia.
They are both from Donetsk, Ukraine, where they started playing hockey together 11 years ago. The war forced them out of their hometown and they had to temporarily resettle within Ukraine before fleeing to Canada.
“Now we are here and we are very grateful for Canada and Canada’s support for Ukrainians,” Danyil said.
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Mark and Danyil both have lifelong dreams of playing hockey in the NHL, and their families were encouraged to choose Canada when the war pushed them out of Ukraine in hopes that it could bring them closer to their goals.
Danyil said his father remembers when he was only five or six years old, he told his father he wanted to move to Canada to play hockey.
“Long ago, when we started playing hockey when we lived in Ukraine, we watched NHL games and saw the strong and fast hockey. And we wanted to go to Canada to play in the NHL,” Danyil said.
“We got the chance and now we are happy about it.”
They arrived in Calgary about five months ago with some hockey equipment and old skates. They tried out for the Calgary Royals AAA in September and made the team.
‘Resilience’: Mark and Danyil made it through tough tests
The U18 AAA team is the flagship team for the Royals in a province-wide league. Players for the Royals can play in the WHL or Junior A the following year, making it a big step toward Mark and Danyil’s dreams of one day playing in the NHL.
The trials are grueling, with four rounds of sectionals against about 180 teenagers, an U18 AAA camp with the top 60, a game with the top 40, and then a week-long camp for the best 26 players. From the camp, the coaches select their 20-player squad.
Head coach Chris Williams said he could tell right away that these were two players who had played high-level hockey, been exposed to good coaching and played against strong competition.
“It’s been an adjustment for them here, but not as big, in terms of the jump in level as some might think,” he said.
“This is an incredible achievement. From where they come from, their background and everything they’ve been through as young children, the resilience they’ve shown is remarkable.”
Someone from the local hockey community stepped up to buy new skates for Mark and Danyil, and the owner of Adrenalin Source For Sports Calgary donated new pants to Mark. Others from Calgary’s hockey and Ukrainian communities have also helped them with team fundraising and other necessary support.
By mid-December the boys were fifth and sixth in team points.
‘A big part of our team’
Mark said his teammates and coaches welcomed them to the team and helped them improve their game.
The other players really made them feel like part of the team, Williams said.
“We’re starting to see them get really involved and have fun with the other boys. They are becoming a big part of our team,” he said.
Mark is a powerful player with good offensive instincts and a great shot, Williams explained, while Danyil is a smart, attacking player with great hockey sense and ability to read the game.
Williams said it was interesting working with the boys and overcoming the language barrier, as they are learning English and he is trying to learn Ukrainian. It was also great to see their families get involved with the team and volunteer their time to help, he said.
They will play in their first Circle K Classic tournament, which runs from December 27 to January 1 at Max Bell Arena and the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex on Tsuut’ina Nation.
Thirty-two teams from Canada, the United States and Europe are playing for the U18 AAA Championship.
Williams said it would be fun to see Mark and Danyil experience the massive competition for the first time. He said it will be great to see them play with their center, Carter Velker, who has worked with the language barrier and different styles of play to become one of the team’s best lines.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see these guys’ reactions and how the city rallies around the tournament,” he said.
‘Grateful’: Playing meaningfully in Canada
Danyil said it means so much to both of them to be able to play hockey here.
“When I lived in Ukraine, I think playing in Canada would be very cool and when I started playing in Canada, I am very happy. It’s a good level for me and for Mark because it’s good hockey,” said Danyil.
“(It’s) more interesting here,” Mark added. “We are very, very grateful to be in Canada.”
Danyil said they enjoyed their time in Calgary, which he says is a very beautiful and welcoming city. They spent some time exploring the Rocky Mountains and seeing Canadian wildlife.
“And there are a lot of good people in Calgary,” Danyil said. “If we didn’t see this support, our life in Calgary might be difficult. But you helped and it’s easier for us.”