International Ice Hockey Federation

Ukraine's rising star

Ukraine's rising star

Zakharchenko aims for the top

Published 15.08.2018 10:02 GMT+4 | Author Henrik Manninen
Ukraine's rising star
Croatia,Zagreb, 17.04.2016. IWM Div IB IIHF ICE HOCKEY WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP Romania-Ukraine Photo:Igor Soban
Sporting a tattoo with the Olympic rings marks the lofty ambitions of Ukraine's Eduard Zakharchenko, who has made his place in net undisputed at the age of 20.

Thrown in at the deep end as a teenager at the IIHF 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Krakow, Poland, Zakharchenko came out of his baptism of fire in flying colours.

Jumping straight from U20 national team duties to guard the net in Ukraine's opener against Italy in Krakow, his senior debut arrived at a difficult time for Ukrainian hockey.

An avalanche of call offs meant 14 first team regulars had been made unavailable. With the bulk of the roster lacking competitive games during a short domestic season when Ukraine's threadbare senior championship had just about been kept alive, the odds were firmly stacked against Ukraine.

It was to be a challenge Zakharchenko relished as he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He clocked up full minutes during Ukraine's five tight encounters in Division IA which in the end saw Ukraine being relegated, but proved to be an invaluable lesson for the then 19-year-old netminder.

"It was tough at first," said Zakharchenko on taking the sudden leap from junior to senior hockey at international level. "With a lot more speed and harder shots, the hockey was totally different."

One year on, Zakharchenko has made the starting berth his own and continued to guard Ukraine's net in all competive matches under new national team head coach Olexander Savitsky.

With the Ukrainian national team now embarking on a rebuilding process under Savitsky, things are also once again looking rosier within its domestic hockey landscape.

The number of teams in the Ukranian national championship was doubled from four to eight ahead of the 2015/2016 season and Zakharchenko finished his first full season of senior hockey with vice-champions Generals Kyiv.

"It has been a successful season for me so far. Although we were not a strong as our opponents, Donbass in the final series, I played well and received the title as the best goalie of the Ukrainian championship."

Born in the Pacific Russian port city of Vladivostok in 1995, the Zakharchenkos relocated back to their family roots in Ukraine in his early years. It was in the Southern Ukrainian port city of Kherson that a young Eduard began his hockey career, before first moving to the capital Kyiv and then later on to Balashikha in the Moscow region of Russia in his mid-teens to continue his development. 

He first came to prominence when suiting up for HK Chelny in the top Russian junior league, MHL, before Kremenchuk offered him the chance to play in the senior championship in Ukraine.

"It has been quite a good league for a junior player to develop in," said Zakharchenko,

"The league is in its development and I don't wish to say any bad words about it because now with eight teams it is getting better all the time, but if you like me want to be the best you should play in the best leagues," said Zakharchenko who has set himself the highest possible goals in his career, where a tattoo with the Olympic rings acts as a motivation tool for him to keep on aiming for the stars.

"My dream is to play in the NHL and in the Olympics. I hope that Ukrainian hockey will continue to develop and that we will have a strong team when the Olympic qualifications come around next."

Ukraine's head coach Savitsky gives him the nod of approval when hearing about Zakharchenko's lofty ambitions for a career which also is set to benefit Ukrainian hockey for years to come.

"I am a maximalist and the maximum level for a player is NHL, so I wish that he one day will play there," said Savitsky.

Zakharchenko did well at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Zagreb, Croatia. With his tournament-leading 95.35 save percentage he helped Ukraine earn promotion and won the Best Goaltender award selected by the tournament directorate.


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