From Syria to Canada: How one boy found a home on the ice

CBC Kids News • Published 2021-01-05 06:00

Yamen Bai hopes to one day be a coach

When Yamen Bai came to Canada as a Syrian refugee one year ago, he had one wish: to play hockey with his friends.

But there was something standing in his way.

His family didn’t have enough money to buy him the equipment he needed.

So members of his community came together to launch a fundraiser, and one year later, the 11-year-old boy from St. John’s, Newfoundland, is making big impressions on the ice.

“I want to say thank you to all the people who helped me to play hockey.” - Yamen Bai, age 11

His story

Yamen was born in the Syrian city of Aleppo, located in the Middle East.

He and his family fled to Iraq when Syria’s civil war became too dangerous.

Yamen Bai and a group of young boys stand at the edge of a rink during a game last week.

Yamen was initially drawn to the sport because he had a friend who played. (Image credit: Ryan Cooke/CBC)

Eventually, in March 2019, Yamen, his mother, two sisters and brother made the move to Canada.

The social media callout

Knowing Yamen was new to the country and eager to play, hockey dad and coach Michael Doyle helped organize an equipment drive and fundraiser last winter.

As part of the fundraiser, Doyle created a callout on Twitter and said he was blown away by the response.

“Within minutes — 20 minutes — gear started showing up at my door,” he said.

In the end, he raised enough cash and gear to register not only Yamen, but two other kids in minor hockey.

Hockey dad Michael Doyle being interviewed in front of an ongoing hockey game.

Hockey dad Michael Doyle coached the opposing team of the Avalon Celtics last week. (Image credit: Ryan Cooke/CBC)

What makes Yamen’s story so special, Doyle said, is the positivity he brings to the rink.

“He comes to the rink with a smile and he leaves hockey with a smile,” he said.

Knowing it was people like Doyle who made his dream come true, Yamen said he wants the community to know how thankful he is for helping him.

“I want to tell them thank you,” he said.

His dreams for the future

Since his start, Yamen has found a home with his team, the Avalon Celtics.

Now he’s not only passionate about the sport — he’s excelling on the ice.

“I like [hockey] because I like my team,” Yamen told CBC News after a game last week.

And Yamen has yet another reason to be proud.

Less than a year after picking up the sport, his Celtics squad emerged victorious in a Christmas tournament last week.

Yamen Bai holds a book written by James Duthie, a broadcaster for The Sports Network (TSN) who included a chapter in his book about Yamen’s journey into hockey.

Yamen’s story has caught the attention of countless people, including James Duthie, a broadcaster for The Sports Network (TSN) who included a chapter in his book about Yamen’s journey into hockey. (Image credit: Ryan Cooke/CBC)

But his goals don’t end there.

Apart from skating hard and scoring goals, Yamen has an idea of what he wants to do after minor hockey:

“I want to be a coach.”

With files from Ryan Cooke/CBC

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