Ukraine Team Select, a hockey team made up of 11- and 12-year-old refugees displaced by war in their home country, rubbed shoulders with hockey royalty on Tuesday when they met the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens.
For the Habs, it was a chance to personally welcome a team that has become the toast of the province as it continues to pick up wins at the Quebec International Peewee Hockey Tournament.
The Ukraine Selects defeated Team Romania Wolves 2-0 on Monday to move within three wins of clinching a spot in the tournament Class AA championship on Sunday.
Shortly after the victory, the players got word that they would be travelling to Montreal to be special guests at the Canadiens’ game against the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.
Ukrainian players and coaches were also able to spend Tuesday morning watching the Canadiens practice.
Following morning skate, Montreal coach Martin St. Louis told reporters that his father “missed the Canadiens game to go see the Ukraine Selects” in their 3-1 win over the Boston Junior Bruins last Saturday. St. Louis also had the opportunity to chat with Ukraine Selects coaches who shared their experience and progress in the tournament.
“We can’t imagine what they’re going through as a country at the moment. And for the kids to take the time to have normal kid experiences in a sport, there’s no better place for this than the Quebec Peewee Tournament,” St. Louis said.
“I know they’re being welcomed by not only Quebec City, but by all hockey fans in Quebec. It’s a great human gesture that we’re able to do for them. I’m really glad to have met them today and to give them a moment where they can forget about the difficult circumstances that they’ve lived through in their country.”
The Ukrainian Selects were able to meet Canadiens players and St. Louis following practice to take photos and grab autographs. They were also presented with their own Canadiens jerseys.
“We’re able to sleep without worry and over there you don’t know if a bomb will fall close by so it’s tough to walk in their shoes,” said Habs forward Alex Belzile. “We were happy to see them. The guys waved at them, threw them a few pucks, everything to make them smile. Plus, they’re kids so I think it’s good for them to clear their heads and put smiles on their faces.”
“I always ask myself if that will really make a difference for them and I think that the answer is yes,” added defenceman Mike Matheson. “If you can just take two, three minutes of their lives and maybe help them to think about something else, I hope that can be something that helps them. Just to talk to them.”
Ukraine will resume its path to the Class AA championship on Friday at 8 a.m. ET against Vermont Flames Academy.