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Ukrainian hockey player gets big assist from Minnetonka family

High School Sports Rally: Ukrainian hockey player gets big assist
High School Sports Rally: Ukrainian hockey player gets big assist 04:28

MINNETONKA, Minn. -- A young hockey player from Ukraine is finding out just how strong Minnesota's hockey community is.

Max Chevevatenko had played hockey with Tyler Hess in summer camps when a group from Ukraine would come to the U.S. So when the war raged in Ukraine, Hess asked if he could come live with his family.

That was 9 months ago. Now, Chevevatenko lives with the Hess family and still stays in touch with his family.

He is supported by the Minnetonka Hockey Association, who have been helping raise money for his hockey fees and beyond. And they have become his Minnetonka circle of friends and support network.

Among those friends, Cherevatenko's "Minnesota dad," Chad Hess.

"He's got a good sense of humor but is really, really serious. Like he is very focused, and after a game he gets over it and he's like a kid," Chad Hess said.

Ukraine is where Chevevatenko grew up, with his parents and his 1-and-a-half-year-old sister. Now, the eight-hour time difference has Chevevatenko carefully choosing the slots when he can FaceTime his parents.

"It's hard, because I haven't seen my family for so long," Chevevatenko said. "(I miss them) a lot."

They play hockey on a backyard rink as Chevevatenko finds his way with a still undefined length for a temporary home. His "Minnesota mom" is keenly aware of his thoughts and needs.

"It's hard to put yourself in that position," Lisa Hess said. "If it were one of my kids, it's hard to even imagine what they must be going through. It's tough."

Recently, they held a hockey fundraiser for him in Excelsior, where he was the centerpiece of a slice of Minnesota kindness. The event went toward raising money to pay for his hockey fees, and more.

"It means a lot. It means people care about me, and stuff that's going on in Ukraine," Chevevatenko said.

They also gathered because he's now one of them.

"I try to comfort him a lot, I try to talk to him about how his day's going," teammate Jackson Wells said. "Little things."

"Max is super nice, he's always funny, he's telling us words in Ukraine. He's just fun to be around," said teammate Sam Williams.

That's what has made his nine-month journey tolerable and, at times, even enjoyable -- the people who have let him into their lives. He's fit in well as a teenage boy in a new family.

"He's a very focused kid. He makes it easy to have him here. He does his own laundry, he sets his alarm to get up in the morning," Chad Hess said.

For now, Chevevatenko will stay in touch with his Ukraine family for now through his phone. Someday, he will return. For now, he misses them dearly.

His hockey family in Minnesota continue to raise money for his hockey fees, and they'd like to find a time to reunite him for a visit with his family also.

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