Newcomers are coming onto the ice thanks to the group making hockey more accessible
Moezine Hasham still remembers the neighbor who gave him his first hockey gear when he was six years old.
This act of kindness introduced him to the sport and inspired him to start the Hockey 4 Youth Foundation, which helps make the game more accessible to newcomers to Canada.
“Hockey is very important to me. It gave me everything and more,” he said.
“My happy place is being on the ice with these girls and just showing them that this is a game they can be a part of for the rest of their lives.”
Hasham’s parents moved to Canada in 1972 when they were exiled from Uganda. He was born five years later.
He played ice hockey at the collegiate level before pursuing a career in corporate affairs, but he understands the challenges faced by immigrants who want to play ice hockey.
“When you’re a teenager and you’ve just arrived in Canada and you’re a newcomer, you have a lot of challenges ahead of you,” Hasham said.
“You want to belong, you want to make friends, maybe you want to play sports. Ice hockey is inaccessible to you just because of the cost.”
Hasham said it can cost as much as $4,000 to play a season in minor hockey, a key reason why 71 percent of freshmen express an interest in playing hockey, but only 1 percent can actually do it, according to figures from the Institute of Canadian citizenship.
He said his organization operates in four cities — Hamilton, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto — and plans to expand to Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver by the fall.
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‘Rewarding’ to pass on knowledge
Hockey 4 Youth works with high schools to find students interested in the program, and Melissa Holterman, a hockey player and teacher at Ridgemont High School, is one of the leaders.
She helps teach a group of high school girls the basics of the sport.
“I wanted to introduce the game to girls who might never have had a chance to play it and just get them to take action and come here and try it,” Holterman said.
“It was amazing. It was a lot more fun than I could have ever imagined and really worth it.”
Some of the girls said they weren’t looking for the opportunity but wanted to take a risk and try something new.
“It’s a sport that I honestly never imagined in my life because I was always so scared and just thought, you know, I might as well try,” said Bahja Jama.
Fellow student Rouba El Khatib, who applied what she learned roller skating in Lebanon, said she sees the benefits of playing ice hockey.
“I really forget everything that annoys me off the ice rink and just play with vigor and have fun, score a few goals,” said El Khatib.
“It always feels different and [it’s] It’s so much fun to be on the ice and play whenever I’m on the ice.”