Minnetonka junior hockey community supports teenage goalie from Ukraine
Minnetonka’s junior hockey community is coming together to support a 15-year-old goalie who fled war-torn Ukraine earlier this year.
When the war broke out in Ukraine, Max Cherevatenko’s family wanted him to get to a safe place. He already had a connection with the Hess family here in Minnesota. The Hesses and their hockey family have rolled out the welcome mat ever since.
“They bombed his home, they bombed his school, they bombed his hockey rink. His mom said, ‘Please save him.’ They brought him here. And he brought one bag,” said Mike Woodley, head coach of the Minnetonka Junior Gold Hockey team.
On Sunday, Max’s coach and teammates organized a fundraiser at Excelsior Brewing Co. The proceeds will support Max’s host family here in Minnesota and the rest will go to his relatives back home in Ukraine.
“I find out I have a goalie from Ukraine and I (hear) the story, and it’s like, ‘We need to do something,’” Woodley said.
Several summers in a row, Max had spent weeks with the Hess family in St. Louis park during a hockey camp. When the war broke out in Max’s homeland, 15-year-old Tyler Hess became scared for his Ukrainian hockey friend.
“I just saw something on social media and then I reached out to him,” Tyler Hess said.
“As they were talking and all of a sudden it just kind of came to, ‘Hey, can Max stay with us?’” said his dad, Chad Hess. “And I think within 10, 15 minutes, we basically said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s do it. Let’s help them out.’”
In March, the Hess family once again opened their home to Max: but this time, indefinitely.
“It means a lot. These people care about me and care about the stuff going on in Ukraine,” Max said.
Tyler and Max, both sophomores at Minnetonka High School, look so much alike that people now mistake them for brothers or even twins.
“I’m grateful that I have him … I’m grateful for Tyler’s family,” Max said.
“We’re always together. Like, we don’t really leave each other. Like school, hockey, home – we’re always together,” Tyler Hess said.
Chad Hess said he’s been proud of how Tyler and his daughter have welcomed Max into their home as a brother. However, he said, it’s been difficult knowing that Max’s family is still in a war-torn country.
“They’re always moving around to safe areas and then they’re rarely getting electricity and rarely getting water. They’re having a tough time. So it’s hard to know that Max is doing great with us and his parents are struggling,” Chad Hess said.
But it’s been also been a lesson for Max’s teammates, as they consider everything he’s been through.
“All of our players can be better people by realizing that maybe their life is a little better than they might have thought,” Woodley said.
The Hess family said there have also been ups and downs with figuring out Max’s immigration documents, but they’re happy to take care of Max as long as he’s able to stay in the United States.
A GoFundMe has been created to support the host family and Max’s family back in Ukraine.