Ulanovs find hockey haven in North Toronto

[attach]7351[/attach]Even when they are 10,000 kilometres apart the bond between Igor and Ilya Ulanov remains strong.

After playing 24 years of pro hockey Igor settled his family in North Toronto before accepting the head coach position with Yekatinberg Avtomobilist of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. Eldest son Ilya, in his graduating year at Northern, is a centre with the varsity Red Knights hockey team.

Because of Igor’s hockey commitments, the father and son haven’t seen each other in a while. They miss each other, and spend their waking moments texting each other and embracing hockey, a game each of them has been playing since he was young.

Ilya is a muscular 6-foot-2 kid. He recalls being introduced to hockey at age 3, when he would take the ice following Edmonton Oilers practices. Despite following in his father’s footsteps, however, he doesn’t see himself going further in competitive hockey.

“I just wanted to focus on school this year, for the future,” Ilya said after a game against Leaside Lancers in December. “It’s a little unrealistic to think that I could play professional hockey. It takes a lot of dedication.”

Ilya will skate out this year with Northern, and then look forward to university, where he has some interest in studying history.

Before that, though, he plans to take a year off and spend extended time with his father in Russia.

Igor welcomes it. He also respects his son’s decision about hockey.

“It did disappoint me that Ilya made the decision to not play any longer, but it didn’t make me to love him any less,” Igor wrote, in email correspondence from Russia. “I said that I will respect any decision that he will make.

“But, not that long ago, he said that he might join a AAA team — I like that.”

On the ice against the Lancers, Ilya’s skating was confident and measured. At one point he hip-checked a Lancer cleanly, and then cranked up the speed in the open ice.

He says he wants to see the same discipline in his team that hockey taught him.

“I want to help this team mainly with their commitment,” Ilya said. “You got to show up to games.

“A lot of people would rather stay after school or skip out and play rep hockey at night. A lot of the players don’t want to be tired for that game.”

Father and son will see each other in the coming months, but the discipline that hockey has taught each of them will keep them sane until then, they say.

Hockey changed Igor’s life, in more ways than the skills applied on the ice.

“Hockey gave me a lot of good,” the senior Ulanov wrote. “Because of the hockey, I moved to Canada to play in the NHL. I met the mom of my three gorgeous sons — Ilya, Kiryll, and Vlad.”