With this being the first ever meeting between the two sides, who are Dnipro Kherson and what do you need to know about our opponents?
Based in the south of Ukraine, Dnipro Kherson was founded in 1998 and currently compete in the Ukrainian National Championship. Prior to joining the Ukrainian National Championship in 2018, Dnipro Kherson won the coveted Black Sea Cup a record-breaking four times, including being crowned back-to-back-to-back champions between 2010 and 2013. In 2009, Dnipro Kherson officially opened its own hockey school, and since then, the club's have won gold multiple times in their age divisions in 2012, 2014 and 2017, finishing as runners-up in 2013 and 2018 respectively.
Despite construction being completed in 2009, Dnipro Kherson's ice rink has been destroyed during the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
When asked about Dnipro Kherson heading to the land of the Giants, Georgii Zubko, president of the Ice Hockey Federation and director of Ukrainian Hockey Dream, said: “We are grateful for the support from the Belfast Giants and we are honoured to bring our Dnipro Kherson team – a young and talented group of players – to The SSE Arena, Belfast. During these tough times, we believe that ice hockey, the game that we love so much, can become a bridge towards a peaceful future - uniting people and providing hope and meaning.”
To date, having recently completed their fourth season in the Ukrainian National Championship, Dnipro Kherson have won a medal – either gold, silver or bronze, every year, with the team finishing second in the 2022/23 campaign.
At the start of the 2022/23 season, Olexander Bobkin, who is currently head coach of the Ukrainian U18 and U20 national teams, was also appointed as head coach of Dnipro Kherson. In his first season with club, Bobkin has received the Ukrainian Coach of the Year award and guided the team to a Ukrainian National Championship bronze medal, after the side was defeated in the playoff semi-finals.
When asked about how ice hockey in Ukraine has been impacted since the beginning of the conflict, Mykyta Vasilyev, defenceman for Dnipro Kherson, said: “I am proud to play for Dnipro Kherson, and look forward to playing in Belfast. It will be a great opportunity, especially for our young players.
“Hockey provides development and direction for children, and provides them with career opportunities within sport. However, at the moment, children across Ukraine are being deprived of the chance to do what they love. I want to express thanks for everything that is being done by the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine and Ukrainian Hockey Dream to ensure that the children in our hockey schools have a future.”
All of the proceeds from the game’s ticket sales will be donated to the Ukrainian Hockey Dream in support of their continued work to reinstate ice hockey throughout Ukraine.