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 teens immigrated to Calgary just five months ago after their last hockey season was interrupted by the Russian conflict in Ukraine.
They were playing hockey in Ukraine and Russia, but when the war between the two countries started earlier this year, their families began applying to come to Canada, the teens told Postmedia.
They’re both from Donetsk, Ukraine, where they started playing hockey together 11 years ago. The war forced them from their hometown and they had to temporarily relocate within Ukraine before fleeing to Canada.
“Now we’re here and we’re very grateful for Canada and Canada’s support for Ukrainians,” said Danyil.
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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 with the hope that it might bring them closer to their goals.
Danyil said his dad remembers that when he was only five or six years old, he told his dad he wanted to move to Canada to play hockey.
“Long time ago, when we start to play hockey when we lived in Ukraine, we watched NHL games and see the strong and fast hockey. And we wanted to go to Canada to play in the NHL,” said Danyil.
“We got the chance and now we’re 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.
‘Resiliency’: Mark and Danyil made it through tough tryouts
The U18 AAA team is the flagship team for the Royals in a provincewide league. Players for the Royals can find themselves playing in the WHL or Junior A the following year, making this a big step towards Mark and Danyil’s dreams of playing in the NHL someday.
The tryouts are gruelling, with four rounds of cuts against about 180 teens, a 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 team.
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 had played against some strong competition.
“It’s been an adjustment for them over here but not as big, in terms of the jump in level as some might think,” he said.
“It’s an incredible accomplishment. From where they’re from, their background and everything that they’ve been through as young kids, the resiliency they have 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 sitting in fifth and sixth in team scoring.
‘A huge part of our team’
Mark said his teammates and coaches have welcomed them to the team and helped them to improve their game.
The other players have really made them feel like part of the team, Williams said.
“We’re starting to see them really get involved and have fun with the other boys. They’re becoming a huge 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, offensive player with great hockey sense and ability to read the game.
Williams said it’s been interesting to work with the boys and overcome the language barrier, as they learn English and he tries to learn some Ukrainian. It’s also been great to see their families become involved with the team and volunteer their time to help out, he said.
They’ll be playing in their first Circle K Classic tournament, which runs from Dec. 27 to Jan. 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’ll be fun to watch Mark and Danyil experience the massive competition for the first time. He said it’ll be great to watch them play with their centre, Carter Velker, who’s worked with the language barrier and different styles of play to become one of the team’s best lines.
“It’s going to be really interesting to see these guys’ reactions and how the city rallies around the tournament,” he said.
‘Grateful’: Playing in Canada meaningful
Danyil said it means so much to both of them that they get 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’m very happy. It’s a good level up 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’ve enjoyed their time in Calgary, which he said is a very beautiful and welcoming city. They’ve spent some time exploring the Rocky Mountains and spotting Canadian wildlife.
“And there’s very good people in Calgary,” said Danyil. “If we did not see this support, maybe our life in Calgary would be hard. But you helped and it’s easier for us.”