Druzhba 78 – Follow-Up – The Surprise
Meeting Anatoliy “The Magician” Buliga
Although I never met him way back in 1992, I did watch him play with a Peewee hockey team named Druzhba 78 from Kharkov Ukraine.
It was one of the most astonishing things I have ever witnessed and this experience had a profound effect.
The Druzhba 78 team played a Bantam all-star team from the Richmond Hill – Vaughan Hockey Association. A team made up of the best players from that association all of who were 2 years older than the players on the Druzhba 78 team. This was an exhibition game played in the evening after the Druzhba team had already played a game that day in another hockey tournament.
The Vaughan all-star team lost. They didn’t stand a chance.
It’s difficult to paint a picture in words of what I witnessed that day. I had watched a lot of minor hockey league games, many of which were very competitive and exiting to see, but what I witnessed during this particular game left me awestruck. The skill level of the Druzhba team was beyond belief. But I had to believe it because I was there and I witnessed it first hand.
As good as all of the players Druzhba were, there was one player that just stood out and I never forgot his name. Anatoliy Buliga was the smallest player on the team. Time after time I watched him go into the corner in the all-star team’s zone to get the puck and time after time even though at least two and many times three of the opposition would try to check him; he would come out of the corner with the puck. His skill level was incredible and his name stuck in my mind.
This last weekend I had the thrill of meeting Anatoliy after 26 years.
How This All Started
Earlier this year I started a segment in this series titled “Can Hockey Skill Be Taught”. Of course I knew the answer and as evidence of my position, I recounted the experience of watching the Druzhba 78 team play back in the early spring of 1992.
In the process of fact checking my memory I did some Google searches on the Druzhba team and came across some links to Anatoliy. He was connected to some hockey school/hockey training in Europe, but also some connections in the Detroit area. Using these links I was eventually able to contact him.
I found out that he is still very much involved in hockey and part of the coaching staff of the under 14 girls team of the very well know Detroit Little Caesars Hockey Club. During our communications Anatoliy advised that his team would likely be in a preseason tournament in Ontario as prep for their upcoming season and he would let me know when it was set.
Finally I received and email with the schedule of games to be held this past weekend in Stoney Creek Ontario and we were able to meet.
Meeting “The Magician”
I arrived in Stoney Creek in time to watch the team play and witnessed a very skilled team play a very good game of hockey.
After the game I met up with Anatoliy and in typical Canadian fashion I took him to a Timmy’s for a coffee and to talk.
Anatoliy now lives in the Detroit area, is married and has a young son. His son is a competitive swimmer and doesn’t play any hockey. He said he had no objection if his son wanted to play hockey and would support him if that were the case, but I got the strong impression that he was quite happy with just the way it is.
I asked Anatoliy about his experience back in the day with the Druzhba team and he said right away that it was not something he likes to think about let alone talk about. It was obvious that I just shouldn’t go there but I did ask him if he ever keeps in touch with any of the old team mates. Anatoliy said that he went back to Ukraine once and met with a couple of the old team mates but it was not pleasant; he used the word cold. Again it was apparent that this was a subject that needed to be dropped. He also mentioned that one of his best friends from the team had passed. I never did ask who or how and I just let it all go.
We did spend a ton of time talking about hockey in general; training and teaching hockey skills, coaching teams, problems inherent in hockey as it is in North America and much more. It was a wonderful conversation and what was most pleasing to me was a validation of my views in that we were 100% in sync with our views. At times on various topics he was saying the same things that I have been writing about and many times using a lot of the same words and phrases that I’ve written in my blogs.
It became apparent to me during our talk that Anatoliy cares deeply about helping people because of his background and knowledge of the hockey world. He is dedicated to using his experience in hockey to help people achieve success. He repeatedly said, “if I can help just one person, that will be a good thing”. In my opinion, if anyone gets advise from Anatoliy, I strongly urge them to take it seriously.
I’m hoping we keep in touch. I’m certain his team will be back in Ontario for tournaments in the future maybe during the Christmas break or March break and I hope to meet with him again. One mistake I made when we met was that out of my excitement of meeting him, I just spoke to much. Next time I’ll talk less and listen and learn more.
Meeting Anatoliy was a great experience and I’m thrilled that I had this opportunity.
Finally Meeting “The Magician”
I recently had a “newbie” to minor hockey relay some bad experiences relating to hockey try-outs with his son. I know try-outs for this season have now passed but this is a topic on which the uninitiated need some advise. Stay tuned for the real goods on minor league hockey try-outs.
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