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An illustration of TMU men's hockey players Daniil Grigorev and Artem Duda
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‘They’re like brothers’: How TMU’s Russian duo came to be

By Alex Wauthy

Johnny Duco was driving home after a recruitment visit at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) in the middle of summer as a phone call came through on his SUV’s dashboard. 

Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) Bold men’s hockey player Daniel D’Amico’s name popped up and worry washed over the head coach. 

“Anytime you get a phone call from one of your players in the middle of the summer, you’re like ‘he’s phoning me to tell me he’s not coming back,’” said Duco. 

D’Amico, who eventually departed the squad a few weeks later, instead tipped Duco off about Daniil Grigorev—an “elite” 19-year-old hockey player hailing from Moscow, Russia. 

Duco connected with Sean Werth, the camp director of the Elite Prospects Junior Showcase Hockey Camp. Duco wanted to make sure Grigorev would be present at the camp he instructed in the following week to take a look.

Third-year TMU forward Elijah Roberts laid eyes on Grigorev for the first time alongside Duco at the camp. Roberts served as a guest instructor, spruced up in a tracksuit with his gloves, stick and skates. He was a familiar face to help Duco assess the player who caught D’Amico’s eye in greater depth.

Roberts thought Grigorev stuck out among the tens of players on the ice from how hard he could shoot the puck and his work ethic. 

“He’s skating…with people who he shouldn’t be. He should be with higher-end players but his work ethic didn’t change,” said Roberts. 

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They then brought Grigorev to the Bold men’s hockey team summer skates to see how he stacked up against U Sports athletes.

Roberts and Duco gloated to third-year forward Kyle Bollers about Grigorev throughout the summer. Bollers didn’t think much of the “Russian kid” then but after seeing him, he understood his team’s fascination. 

“[Grigorev] probably looked better than most guys to be honest,” Roberts said of Grigorev’s play at TMU’s summer skates. 

At that point, the team extended an olive branch. The Bold offered Grigorev to join a side that had a spot secured in the U Sports national tournament months in advance. For Grigorev, it was an easy answer. 

“I made my decision almost instantly,” said Grigorev. 

Confusion, miscommunication and occasional hiccups mired the initial stages of bringing Grigorev onto the team. But after connecting with international support at the university, the paperwork process was successfully settled with a six-month plan. In short, the Russian player was TMU-bound. 

The leadership group went to quick work making Grigorev feel at home. Big cities and being on the move was natural for him, but an English language barrier and no fellow Russians meant he would stick out. 

“He came in, had a visor that didn’t really fit, all red equipment—the Russian hockey equipment,” said Roberts. “In a way, he stuck out because he was the only Russian on the team, but also because everyone was wearing their blue equipment.” 

Eventually, he ditched his red for TMU blue once he was enrolled in classes. His new helmet seemed a little too big. To Bollers, Grigorev was perhaps too shy to ask how to fix it, but seeing his new teammate in the school colours was a “really good change.” 

As weeks passed, Grigorev’s shyness turned to comfort and his trademark smile never faltered. Slowly but surely, he became one of the guys.  

  • TMU men's hockey players Daniil Grigorev and Artem Duda pick up the pucks after warmups
  • Artem Duda stares at the ice from the bench
  • Daniil Grigorev fist bumps his teammates after scoring a goal
  • TMU men's hockey player Artem Duda skates with the puck behind the goal as Daniil Grigorev skates forward
  • TMU men's hockey player Artem Duda skates with the puck
  • TMU men's hockey player Daniil Grigorev closes the bench door
  • TMU men's hockey player Artem Duda prepares for a faceoff
  • TMU men's hockey player Daniil Grigorev accepts an award
  • Grigorev and Duda stand next to each other on the ice with their sticks below their chins

A quarter of the way through the season, Werth tipped Duco off on another Russian athlete, Artem Duda. The 19-year-old defenceman 2022 NHL draft pick was projected to play big minutes with the University of Maine in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, but his eligibility was denied. Following two failed appeal attempts, the Moscow product was left without a team, a rink to practice in and a certain future. 

Duco asked Grigorev to reach out to Duda. The two Russians have played hockey with each other since they were 10, grew up in Moscow together and each won an Olympic Youth gold medal in 2020.

Weeks of talking logistics, study permit and living situation proceeded throughout the latter half of November. Shortly after, it was official. Duda was on his way to TMU. 

“Daniil had a pretty big impact on me,” said Duda. “He suggested [TMU], he said, ‘We have some opportunities if you want to play for us, it would be great because I know you have problems with Maine. If you fly here, it would be awesome.’”

Duda landed at Pearson International Airport on Dec. 26, 2023. Assistant coach Michael Fine and a videographer waited among swaths of people at the airport’s international arrivals section for the Russian to emerge. Eventually, a tall man pushing bags and holding hockey sticks walked through the sliding arrival doors. 

“I was so excited because it’s a new step in my career, a new page in my life,” said Duda. “I’ve never been to Toronto before, so I was looking forward to getting this opportunity.” 

The Bold got a new player and teammate with Duda’s recruitment, while Grigorev found a brother. 

“It feels great to have someone who speaks your native language,” said Duda. 

“I’m really happy that they have each other”

The MAC’s employees sometimes have to kick the two off the ice after practice. The duo will repeat one-timers and passing plays on the barren ice while their teammates are in the gym. After games, Duda will get up from his stall and walk over to Grigorev to chat. The two make time to connect with their teammates, but their bond is special and the team knows it. 

“I’m really happy that they have each other,” said Duco. “I think if they were on their own, they could maybe feel a little lonely at times. I think having each other is really special and allowing them to thrive at such a high level.”  

While living in Maine, Duda had no Russian players alongside him. With Grigorev at TMU, his transition to the university was much smoother. 

“We’ve been playing together since childhood,” said Duda. “We have a great relationship with each other. He’s one of my best friends and always supports and helps me, and I try to do the same for him.”


In the Ontario University Athletics West division final, the Bold took on the Brock Badgers—their long-time rivals. The Badgers won game one, but the Bold rallied to force a do-or-die game three for a chance to head to the Queen’s Cup. 

With less than two minutes left in a tied series-deciding game, Grigorev had the puck pop out to him at the top of the faceoff circle. He unleashed his hard shot and beat first-year goaltender Connor Ungar clean for the game-winning goal. 

The Bold bench erupted, slamming their sticks against the glass behind them as silence fell over Brock’s home crowd. Grigorev lit up with a smile, fell on one knee and pumped his fist in celebration. 

“It’s probably the biggest goal in our school’s history,” said Roberts. 

After a joyous bus ride, the Bold arrived back at the MAC. Their coaches offered to take the team out for wings and fries at the Irish pub, Mick E. Fynn’s, across the street for defeating Brock. However, the two Russians stayed behind in the bus to clean up. 

“I was so excited because it’s a new step in my career, a new page in my life”

After entering the pub some time following the rest of the team, the Russian duo—one who just scored the goal that sent them to the Queen’s Cup and the other who was tied for the team lead in playoff points at that time—plopped down at the end of a makeshift table sized to hold the hockey team. Bollers went up to Duda and said “yes” and “no” in  Russian—two of the few words he knows from the language—and the team continued to celebrate. 

Roberts reminisced about Grigorev’s summer camp after his game-winning goal against Brock.

 “Things happen for a reason.  Maybe it’s a different coach who’s running that camp and I’m not there, and Daniil ends up on Brock,” he said.

The gloomy restaurant, which housed no more than a dozen other people that night, surrounded the Queen’s Cup-bound team with hockey highlights from professional leagues. But the Bold were replaying their triumphant victory. 

Bollers gave the Russian duo a quick glance later in the night. Sandwiched between fourth-years Cole Cameron and Zach Roberts along with second-year Will Portokalis, he saw Duda cupping his phone next to Grigorev. Duda held it out just far enough for his fellow countryman to watch videos with him.

Grigorev had his patented smile plastered to his face and his compatriot smiled with him as they laughed at a video on Duda’s phone—shoulder-to-shoulder and surrounded by their new Canadian family. 

“The way they get along is special, they’re like brothers,” said Duco. “They got a special bond.”

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