Hockey program has goal to combat racism in sport

A new program is making it easier for kids who normally wouldn't get a chance to play hockey to lace up and hit the ice in a safe and welcoming environment.

'It's important to be around people that look like you during hockey'

Godlove Ngwafusi, general manager of the African Hockey Association, says he wants to grow the program. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

A new program is making it easier for kids who normally wouldn't get a chance to play hockey to lace up and hit the ice in a safe and welcoming environment.

The idea was created from Godlove Ngwafusi's own experience seeing how his son, Nick, was treated while growing up playing the game he loves.

"It all started, all this and negative stuff about the racism in hockey in which we all know about," said Ngwafusi, who is the general manager of the African Hockey Association.

"He had his heart in hockey and then to come and be faced with negative criticism and insults, being called the N-word and that kind of stuff that could really hurt him because he was born here."

Nick persevered and went on to play in the National Collegiate Athletic Association for the Marian University Sabres.

Many of the players didn't know how to skate when they began learning the sport through the program. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

Ngwafusi started the program in October. The African Canadian Association and other corporate sponsors also got on board to cover equipment costs, along with registration and ice time, helping children who may not normally have the financial means to play the sport.

"Most of them just couldn't skate at all, they've never been on the ice before ... they're playing scrimmages now," said Ngwafusi, referencing some of the players on the team, many of whom are new to Canada. 

"These kids are Canadians and they've always felt left out for not being able to play. They played soccer and that kind of stuff, but they want to be able to play the whole gamut of Canadian sports and the ultimate Canadian sport is hockey."

More than skills

Ngwafusi said as more kids join the program, their friends and family see the fun they're having and want to play too. 

"I wanted to start skating ... and hitting the puck and scoring goals," said Jayden Mforteh, who is part of the program.

For Jaeden Bouzi Laryea, who started playing hockey on a backyard rink after watching Canada's national winter sport on television, getting the skill development from high-level players who volunteer as coaches means the world to him. It's especially meaningful, he said, when the coaches look like him.

"I feel like I can like be in the NHL and there's not many Black players in the NHL, so I want to be one of them," he said.

He was one of many kids taking part in a Sunday morning practice at the Jim Durrell Recreation Centre Sunday morning.

"I think it's important to be around people that look like you during hockey, because there's not many people that are  racialized in hockey."

Melissa Piere Sossoyan and her son, Nicholas, who loves playing hockey with his new team. Melissa says representation in sports matters. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

Parents watching their children play the game believe that too.

"I think at some point you have to do something, and if you can start at a lower level to build it up, why not? I think that the kids crave for representation," said Melissa Piere Sossoyan.

"As parents our job is to give them the tools, so that's what we're trying to do."

Ngwafusi said any child can join the program, and he hopes it will continue to grow in the coming years.

African Hockey Association founder and general manager Godlove Ngwafusi tells All in a Day what made him want to start the program, and why he thinks it's important for young hockey players to see people who look like them excelling in the sport.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.



Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.