College men's hockey: Hockey is the tie that binds for UWS men

With a roster that includes a handful of Europeans, a Russian, eight Canadians and 13 players from all over the United States, a practice for the Wisconsin-Superior men's hockey team could sometimes be mistaken for a United Nations meeting.

With a roster that includes a handful of Europeans, a Russian, eight Canadians and 13 players from all over the United States, a practice for the Wisconsin-Superior men's hockey team could sometimes be mistaken for a United Nations meeting.

The international players include sophomore forward Pavel Mikhasenok (Yekaterinburg, Russia), freshman defenseman Artur Terchiyev (Kiev, Ukraine), junior forward Bruno Birzitis (Riga, Latvia), junior defenseman Jerry Miettunen (Tuusula, Finland) and sophomore goaltender Oscar Svensson (Sodertaljei, Sweden).

"We have kids from all over the world," UWS coach Rich McKenna said. "It would be quite the dinner experience if we all brought a traditional dish."

While splitting time between being a coach and an ambassador, McKenna loves how the different cultures are coming together.

"It's been good; the camaraderie in the locker room has been awesome this year," McKenna said. "It's a fun room to be in, which is pretty cool because of all the different cultures meshing in there."

Of all the languages, English and Russian are spoken the most often, with Terchiyev and Birzitis speaking fluent Russian along with Mikhasenok.

"It's kind of funny when those three get mad in practice," McKenna said. "We have a no-complaining rule in our program, but when they get mad they'll start spouting off and we have no idea what they're saying."

The communication also helps out on the ice, especially the weekend of Jan. 11-12 when Mikhasenok enjoyed his best series as a Yellowjacket by scoring a pair of game-winning goals and assisting on both of Terchiyev's goals in wins over Bethel (3-1) and Hamline (2-1).

"We like to be on the ice together," said Terchiyev, the first UWS player from the Ukraine. "Talking Russian helps a lot, so it's been fun."

While their countries haven't been on friendly terms for the past three years, Mikhasenok and Terchiyev have been friends for about five years, including two stints as roommates.

They first roomed together at Everest Academy in Thornhill, Ontario. After graduating from high school, they went their different ways in junior hockey before eventually ending up at UWS, where they are roommates again.

"It's fine - we've been friends for a long time," Mikhasenok said about the Russia-Ukraine conflict. "We don't really care about what goes on (back home)."

Mikhasenok's family still lives in Russia and his father doesn't miss a game.

"My dad watches every game online," Mikhasenok said. "He has to wake up around 5 or 6 a.m. to watch them."

Terchiyev's parents now live in Florida, but his grandparents remain in Kiev.

"It's been a pretty intense situation the past three years," Terchiyev said. "I go back to Kiev every summer with my family; it's all good in the capital. But near the border it's pretty intense. But that's more on the political side."

McKenna agrees.

"There's no cultural animosity in our room," he said. "Your name, your heritage and that stuff is given to you, but at the end of the day, first and foremost, we're going to identify as Yellowjackets. That's the culture we're building here."

Ironically, it took two of the four players from Texas (Andrew Durham and Chad Lopez) to help reunite Terchiyev and Mikhasenok at UWS.

McKenna coached Durham (Richardson, Texas) in juniors and that led to recruiting Lopez (Arlington, Texas) and eventually Terchiyev.

"I asked Andrew if he knew Lopez and he said they were good friends," McKenna said. "Lopez and Terchiyev were playing together in Ontario, and then we found out Terchiyev was friends with Pavel."

Terchiyev is the only defenseman on a line that includes Mikhasenok, Daniel Litchke (Superior), Jordan Martin (Winnipeg, Manitoba) and Will Blake (Champlin, Minn.) in a newly installed system called the "Torpedo."

"It's more offensive," Terchiyev said. "It's kind of an eye-opener for teams that haven't seen it before. It's fun to play and a pretty good system if everybody does their job right."

The system, which originated in Sweden, uses line combinations of one defenseman and four forwards.

"We don't have enough 'D' with injuries and players leaving for personal reasons," McKenna said. "We're one injury away from not having six defensemen on our team. The strength of our team is the forwards, so we had to adjust a couple of things and we've been able to stay afloat.

"It's not exactly what we want to do, but it's out of necessity, and you have to play the cards you're dealt."

The Yellowjackets have six games remaining in the regular season, beginning this weekend with games at Wisconsin-Stout and Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

"These next six games are very important," Mikhasenok said. "If we want to get a better seed (for the playoffs), we have to win every one of them."

Svensson will be back in goal tonight after picking up his first two collegiate wins last weekend.

"We're down to two goalies, so he picked a good time to play well for us," McKenna said. "He was the all-star of the weekend. Even though Pavel had two goals and two assists, he kind of stole the show. He'll get the nod again (tonight) and we'll see where it goes from there."