Inhabitants of the Ukraine saw hockey in 1912 for the first time in their lives when two groups of enthusiasts played in Kharkov. For a long time the Ukraine had other more pressing concerns and until 1940 hockey never really existed for them at all. Only Ukrainians of Polish nationality regularly saw their team, Pogon Lvov, play for the Polish national title. It was in the winter of 1940 that two groups of students at the Institute of Physical Training in Kiev tried the Canadian style of hockey. For their games they even constructed a makeshift skating rink but this episode didn’t have a lasting impact. Development was interrupted by World War II.
The beginning of the real history of Ukrainian hockey dates from 1946 when hockey with a puck was played in Kharkov for the first time. Until that time, hockey with a ball dominated, as it did in other countries of the Soviet Union. A year later even players in Kiev accepted the new game. The geographical proximity to Czechoslovakia played an important role too in the development of Ukrainian hockey. The first club registered for championship competitions was Spartak Uzgorod. In 1948, Uzgorod was joined by Lokomotiv Kharkov, which in the near future was to became the strongest Ukrainian club, able even to compete with the teams from the Russian part of the Soviet Union. In 1949, the first hockey championship of the Ukrainian SSR took place and five clubs were involved – besides Lokomotiv Kharkov and Spartak Uzgorod, there were Spartak Drogobyc, Spartak Lvov, and Dynamo Kiev. As was usual in that time “amphibians” dominated the ice – the best players of most clubs were first division football league players as well! Kharkov were the best that first year.
In the following years newer and newer clubs sprang up in the Ukraine but the teams from Kharkov and Kiev played the main role. In 1957, the winter was very warm and hockey was not played. But this was the last time the sport was to be slowed in the Ukraine. Ukrainians very often measured the strength of their hockey with, in particular, clubs from Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, i.e., those countries within the Soviet Union. The first game with the national team of another country was played in 1961 when a team made up of Kiev’s players played Romania. The Ukraine did not win that first international game, but hockey’s popularity continued to grow nevertheless.
The real hockey boom in the Ukraine began in the mid-sixties when Dynamo Kiev became a truly strong club. For the first time, TV broadcasted the USSR’s games from the Olympics, and the result was six new roofed arenas being built. Even though Ukrainians could not cope with the powerful and well-organized clubs from Moscow, from 1978 even they had their own stable representative in the highest league of the USSR. Sokol Kiev even won a bronze medal and made it to the semi-finals of the State Cup twice.
After the break-up of the USSR, the history of Ukrainian hockey began again from scratch. Highly-skilled players aimed for foreign contracts. The country, not being rich, has not had the possibility to finance hockey quite the way it would like to, but Ukrainians have coped with such problems. They play both technical and tough hockey, which has brought them up to Group A of the World Championship. When they played for the first time in 2000 in St. Petersburg they finished in 14th place, a year later in Hannover they ended up 10th, and in 2002 in Sweden, they finished their best, 9th. Two players have already tasted gold, with the Soviet Union, at the World Championship – forty-year-old defenseman Valerij Sirjajev, and thirty-four-year-old forward Dmitrij Christic have helped bring the Ukraine to their best placement in history.
Do those names sound familiar to you? Here’s one more – even Alexej Zhitnik learned to play hockey in the Ukraine – a member of Russia’s silver medal winning team from Nagano, and a stable member of the Buffalo Sabres defense is a native of Kiev.
You can find the results and the calendar of 2003/04 season HERE
Team Ukraine has never won a medal at either the World Championship or the Olympic Games.
Top stars: Valerij Širjajev, Dmitrij Christič, Michail Tatarinov, Alexej Žitnik, Alexander Godynjuk, Jurij Šundrov.
Best NHL players, 2002-2003
Denis Švidkij (Florida Panthers, 23 games, 4 goals, 2 assists).
Dmitrij Christič (Washington Capitals, did not play last season, 2001/2002 61 games, 9 goals, 12 assists).
The team which achieved the best-ever result for Ukrainian hockey at the World Championship – 9th position (2002, Göteborg, Jönköping)
Goalies: Konstantin Šimčuk, Igor Karpenko, Alexandr Fjodorov.
Defense: Jurij Gunko, Sergej Klimentěv, Vjačeslav Timčenko, Arťom Ostrouško, Dmitrij Tolkunov, Valerij Širjajev, Vjačeslav Zavalnyuk.
Forwards: Vasil Bobrovnikov, Dmitrij Christič, Sergej Charčenko, Vadim Shakrajčuk, Dimitrij Markovskij, Dimitrij Cyrul, Valentin Oleckij, Alexandr Zyněvič, Boris Procenko, Konstantin Kasijančuk, Roman Salnikov, Alexandr Matvičuk, Bohdan Savenko.
Head Coach: Anatolij Bogdanov.