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Devils celebrate Ukrainian Heritage Night

by Gordy Stillman / New Jersey Devils
Members of Newark's Ukrainian community performed on the concourse as part of Ukrainian Heritage Night. Photo by Courtney Gfroerer

The New Jersey Devils celebrated Ukrainian Heritage Night during the team’s December 6 game against the Washington Capitals at Prudential Center. With one of the largest Ukrainian communities in the country right in Newark, the Devils honored the people of the Eastern European country with a special performance of the national anthem by professional opera singer Stefan Szkafarowsky and recognized the life of former U.S. Army Rangers Captain Mark Paslawsky, who was honored posthumously as the Hero of the Game.

Fans in attendance were also treated to traditional Ukrainian dances performed on the main concourse by local groups who donned costumes representing the historic culture. Blue and yellow striped Ukrainian flags flew throughout the building as well, and many fans wore Ukrainian hockey jerseys. The game’s 50/50 raffle benefitted the Ukrainian Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, located in Denville, NJ.

Szkafarowsky, a nationally recognized opera singer, has performed “Madam Butterfly,” “The Nose” and “Rigoletto” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and will begin rehearsals of “Aida” later this month. He most recently performed the roles of Monterone and Sparafucile in Opera Colorado’s production of “Rigoletto.”

“It’s an honor and a privilege for me to come (to Prudential Center) and sing,” Szkafarowsky said. The bass performed the anthem at Yonkers City Hall in August, but tonight was his first performance at a professional sports event.

Skafarowsky is a native of New York, where his parents met after both emigrating from Ukraine. He began vocal training at 14 after teachers at his parochial school noticed his singing voice and encouraged him and his parents to pursue the art. Szkafarowsky attended Julliard, studied at the Westchester Conservatory of Music, and got his start with the Young Artists Program at the Chicago Opera Theater.

During the second period of the game, the Devils posthumously honored Captain Mark Paslawsky, a 1981 United States Military Academy at West Point graduate. In 1992, Capt. Paslawsky moved to Ukraine, the birthplace of his parents, and was killed in action this past August while fighting with the Donbas Battalion in the Ukrainian National Guard near the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk. Capt. Paslawsky’s brother Nestor was in attendance to accept the award on his behalf.

Capt. Paslawsky grew up in Newark’s populous Ukrainian neighborhood, participating in traditions and activities in the community. After 11 years of service to the U.S. Army, including time in the Army Rangers, and only a few years after Ukrainian independence and the fall of the Soviet Union, Capt. Paslawsky’s interest in the country’s culture and people led him to make the move to his family’s homeland.

Despite his distance from the Garden State after, Nestor said his brother continued to keep track of the Devils and the NHL. “He was a big hockey fan, and a fan of all things New Jersey.”

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