Some Syrian refugees got a true taste of Canadian culture when they attended an Ontario Hockey League game Friday in Mississauga.
The Steelheads made 520 tickets available without charge to Syrian families, volunteers and sponsors for their evening game at the Hershey Centre. For most of the newcomers, it was their first time ever watching hockey or being in an arena.
"It's something new for them, they wanted to see what hockey is all about and it is a part of our integration program," said Sam Jisri, who works with the Syrian Active Volunteers group.
Jisri said he handed out at least 120 tickets to the group of attendees, who he described as "very happy" and "very excited" to be at the rink.
The last five years haven't been much fun for those affected by the overseas conflict, Jisri noted. He explained how the war has been a difficult experience for the young ones.
"Small things for us mean a lot for them," he said. "It is very heart-touching for them, especially for their children."
'They might fall in love with it'
Mississauga Steelheads defenceman Nicolas Hague said he hopes the event will help to inspire the next generation of hockey fans.
"I think it's probably pretty special, I mean, hockey is probably the biggest sport in Canada," he said. "Hopefully some of the young kids up there will learn to play hockey, too."
A 13-year-old boy named Mohammed said through an Arabic translator that he would love to play hockey one day. He said his favourite part of the game is watching goals being scored.
Some of the youngsters spoke about how action-packed and physical the sport is, especially up close.
"They might fall in love with it and you might see some big players out there," Jisri said.
And while many newcomers seemed excited to get out and enjoy a game some had only heard about, another young boy, also named Mohammed told CBC News, through a translator that he likes hockey but prefers watching it.
"He likes [to play] soccer," the translator said with a laugh.
It was a win-win for all involved: The refugees got a chance to soak up a new experience while the Steelheads got more eyeballs on their team, which won 5-3 over the Peterborough Petes.