Summerside Western Capitals welcome 2 Ukrainian players, on and off the ice

The Western Capitals have been recruiting players from Ukraine. (Ken Linton/CBC - image credit)
The Western Capitals have been recruiting players from Ukraine. (Ken Linton/CBC - image credit)

David Sibilevych hadn't set foot on the ice in more than a month because of the war in Ukraine, but when he arrived on P.E.I. earlier this month, that all changed, and quickly.

"I put him on the ice for about 20 minutes to try to break in his gear and I went to him and said, 'You're going to play tonight,'" said Billy McGuigan, head coach of the Summerside Western Capitals.

"And he just kind of looked at me and smiled and said, 'Sure, I'll play.'"

It took the 19-year-old nearly 30 hours to travel to P.E.I. He was the first Ukrainian player to join the team, but another, Fedor Babenko, 18, joined him this week.

Ken Linton/CBC
Ken Linton/CBC

"I'm happy when I arrived. Finally, I'm here, and I can play hockey," Sibilevych said.

His last club was HK Kremenchuk, in the Ukrainian Hockey League. He also played with the U20 Ukrainian national team at the recent world junior championships.

But he left behind his entire family to come to Canada and play hockey with the Western Capitals when they began scouting Ukrainian players.

"It's a pretty eye-opening experience with what he's come from, and how much he loves hockey," said McGuigan.

A different perspective

Usually, European players aren't allowed on Junior A hockey teams in Canada. But this was a special circumstance.

"We had to do an appeal to Hockey Canada that took a couple of weeks... and a lot of paperwork, but we got through that and everything was all approved," said Western Caps general manager Pat McIver.

"So then we began the process of getting them into Canada."

Ken Linton/CBC
Ken Linton/CBC

Since arriving here, Sibilevych has been living in a billet house with two teammates, who are helping him adjust to daily life in Canada.

"He tries not to use a translator too much. He wants to learn English and learn what to be Canadian is," 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's been talking a lot about his team back there, and how they did things," he said.

"We talked about how we do things and just how it's a big change for him. But he loves it here."

Ken Linton/CBC
Ken Linton/CBC

'Happy to have him here'

Sibilevych has played three games since arriving, and will be in the lineup for the playoffs that get underway this weekend, starting with games in Summerside.

His coach said the Ukrainian's first game was a little shaky, but he's improved with each game, and already has a couple of goals as a Western Capital.

"It's pretty surreal, to be totally honest. We're on Prince Edward Island. Not a lot goes on here. And we're pretty safe and pretty lucky to live in this country and this province," McGuigan said.

"I'm not really sure what he's been through, but I'm sure it's been a lot, and we're happy to have him here."

Summerside Western Capitals
Summerside Western Capitals

The coach, general manager and Sibilevych's teammate say they hope the Ukrainians will consider making Summerside their home, at least for a while.

"That would be up to them. The community is embracing them right now. And I think if they want to stay, we'd be able to make that happen," McIver said.

"I've had people reaching out to offer jobs, homes, you name it, the support has been there."

"He's just a kid that wants to play hockey, and that's all there is to it," said coach McGuigan.