Summerside Western Capitals welcome two Ukrainian players on and off the ice
David Sibilevych hadn’t set foot on the ice for more than a month due to the war in Ukraine, but things changed quickly when he arrived at PEI earlier this month.
“I put him on the ice for about 20 minutes to try and break in his gear and I went up to him and said, ‘You’re going to play tonight,'” said Summerside Western Capitals head coach Billy McGuigan.
“And he just kind of looked at me and smiled and said, ‘Sure, I’ll play.'”
It took the 19-year-old almost 30 hours to travel to the PEI. He was the first Ukrainian player to join the team but another, Fedor Babenko, 18, joined him this week.
“I’m happy when I arrived. Finally I’m here and I can play hockey,” said Sibilevych.
His last club was HK Kremenchuk in the Ukrainian Ice Hockey League. He also played with the Ukraine national under-20 team at the recent World Junior Championships.
But he left his entire family to come to Canada and play hockey with the Western Capitals when they started scouting Ukrainian players.
“It’s quite a revealing experience of where he’s from and how much he loves hockey,” McGuigan said.
A different perspective
Normally, European players are not allowed on Junior A hockey teams in Canada. But that was a special circumstance.
“We had to appeal to Hockey Canada, which took a couple of weeks … and a lot of paperwork, but we got through it and it was all approved,” said Western Caps general manager Pat McIver.
“So we started bringing them to Canada.”
Since arriving here, Sibilevych has been living in a shelter with two teammates who are helping him adjust to everyday Canadian life.
“He tries not to use a translator too much. He wants to learn English and learn what it’s like to be Canadian,” said Brandon Abbott, a goalie on the team and one of the housemates.
It’s good for the team to have a different perspective, Abbott said.
“He talked a lot about his team back there and how they did things,” he said.
“We’ve talked about how we do things and how it’s a big change for him. But he loves it here.”
“Lucky to have him here”
Sibilevych has played three games since arriving and will be in the lineup for the playoffs that begin this weekend, starting with games at Summerside.
His manager said the Ukrainian’s first game was a bit shaky but he’s been improving with every game and has already scored a couple of goals as Western Capital.
“It’s pretty surreal, to be honest. We’re on Prince Edward Island. Not much happens here. And we’re pretty safe and pretty lucky to live in this country and this province,” McGuigan said.
“I’m not sure what he went through but I’m sure it was a lot and we’re glad to have him here.”
The coach, general manager and team-mate of Sibilevych hope the Ukrainians will consider making Summerside their home, at least for a while.
“That would be her business. The community is embracing her right now. And I think if they want to stay, we can do it,” McIver said.
“I’ve had people reaching out for jobs, houses, you name it, the support was there.”
“He’s just a kid who wants to play hockey and that’s all,” said coach McGuigan.