The Timmins Rock have signed highly skilled Ukrainian forward Pavlo Kobikov. SUBMITTED PHOTO
The Timmins Rock have dipped their toes in the international pool, signing a pair of highly skilled Ukrainians as they prepare to open the 2023-24 NOJHL regular season against the Cubs in Greater Sudbury on Sept. 8.
Denys Pasko, a 2005-birth-year left-hand shot forward from Krivoy Rog, and Pavlo Kobikov, a 2004-birth-year left-hand shot forward from Kharkov, have received Hockey Canada approval to join the Rock for the upcoming campaign.
Rock coach and general manager Brandon Perry acknowledged the team has been working for some time to secure the rights to the dynamic duo.
“We have probably been working on it for a month and a half, two months,” he said.
And why not considering the success the 2023 Centennial Cup champion Brooks Bandits had with fellow Ukrainians Mikhail Simchuk and Danylo Korzhyletskyi.
“That certainly opened up our eyes to it,” Perry said.
“(Normally) we are not allowed imports in the CJHL (Canadian Junior Hockey League), so that was the first I had heard Hockey Canada was granting I think they call it compassionate exemption or something like that to Ukrainian players.
“When Brooks had two Ukrainian players and they were very good players, obviously, so we were wondering, how did that happen?
“It was something we looked at early in the off season and we ended up finding two.”
The coach acknowledged bringing in a pair of players when they have to adjust to a new language and culture makes sense, although they weren’t necessarily thinking about that when the process started.
“It just happened we were able to get two of them, that’s the way it worked out,” Perry said.
“It certainly should be beneficial for them, to have somebody who speaks the same language in the locker room, but that’s just the way it worked out.”
Pasko, who stands 5-9 and weighs 176 pounds, played for New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs 17U (52, 14-19-33, 6), in the 18U ‘AAA’ last season.
In 2021-22, he suited up with HC Pridneprovsk Dnepr U20 (8, 4-2-6, 4), of the Ukraine U20.
“The Pasko played in the United States last year at the U18 level and was a (nearly) a point-a-game player,” Perry said.
“I think he is going to provide us some depth in our lineup, probably slot in in our Middle 6 somewhere, just off the top of my head.
“He has a bit of a physical edge to him, which was nice to see on video, and he has a decent skill set, so we are looking forward to getting him in here.”
Kobiko, who stands 5-11 and weighs 172 pound, split the 2022-23 season between Valpellice Bulldogs U19 (regular-season: 18, 9-8-17, 26; playoffs: 2, 1-0-1, 0), of Italy U19, and Valpellice Bulldogs (22, 6-3-9, 6), of Italy2.
In 2021-22, he split the campaign between Molodaya Gvardiya Donetsk U20 (14, 2-2-4, 14), of Ukraine U20, and Altair Druzhkivka (19, 0-0-0, 4), of UHSL.
“The Kobiko is the interesting one, because he played a handful of games at the pro level in Italy, in their second league, which is extremely high level hockey,” Perry said.
“So, we are expecting a lot from him. He can come in and contribute offensively right away.
“They are both solid players and they are going to help us address our depth issue.”
Pasko and Kobikov were unavailable to play for the Rock at the 2023 Cottage Cup preseason tournament, since at that point Hockey Canada had not yet approved their signing with the team.
“Obviously, it would have been nice to have them there, give us a little bit more depth,” Perry said.
“We played really well at the Cottage Cup but I just thought our depth wasn’t there up front.
“In the back of my mind, I was thinking okay we have got reinforcements coming. Kaeden McArthur was at the Barrie Colts (OHL) camp.
“Elijah Pool and Chase Longhurst-McIntyre were both hurt, so that’s two D in our Top 4 who were out and potentially three forwards (McArthur, Pasko and Kobikov) in our Top 6 or Top 9 players in our lineup.
“It was certainly in the back of our minds, we were right there with those teams. If we had the depth we are going to have coming up here shortly, we could have had a better showing.”
Perry isn’t too sure how fluent Pasko and Kobikov are in English, but he isn’t anticipating any issues.
“I have just been dealing with their advisors, I haven’t had a chance to speak with the kids yet,” he said.
The arrival date for the Ukrainian duo in Timmins remains up in the air, at this point, as well.
“We were waiting for the appeal through Hockey Canada and we kept waiting,” Perry said.
“The one kid is in Italy right now and the other kid is in the United States.
“The Pasko kid in the United States is waiting for his visa to get shipped to him, should be any day, and then he will make his way up here, and then the Kobikov kid is just waiting for his immigration stuff for his refugee status in Italy, then he will be on his way over.
“He had flights booked as early as Aug. 21, but he couldn’t come because we were waiting for the decision from Hockey Canada. Then, he was going to come Aug. 25, but we still hadn’t heard.
“Then, he was going to fly into Toronto and that would have been perfect because we were down there (for the Cottage Cup). We could have picked him up at the airport and bring him back up north.
“We still hadn’t heard an answer, then the Tuesday morning I was at the rink getting ready for one of our games and I got the call that they were both approved.
“Now, we are just trying to figure out travel arrangements to get them up here.”
In the meantime, are Perry and his staff — maybe even a few key forwards — looking to expand their Ukrainian vocabulary?
“We are going to try,” he said, with a chuckle.
“We are going to have to speak to them first to see how big that (language) barrier is going to be.
“The Pasko kid played in the United States, so I assume his English is pretty good.
“Just watching them play on video, it seems like they understand. Most of our communication is done through video.
“We just have to figure out how big that language barrier is going to be first, and then get creative, figure out ways to communicate, but they are smart players and they should pick up things pretty quickly.”