Newcomers hit the ice thanks to group making hockey more accessible
'Hockey's really near and dear to my heart. It's given me everything and more,' says Hockey 4 Youth founder
Moezine Hasham still remembers the neighbour that gifted him his first set of hockey equipment at the age of six.
That 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 for newcomers to Canada.
"Hockey's really near and dear to my heart. It's given 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 that 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 went on to play hockey at the university level before going into a career in corporate affairs, but he knows the challenges that face immigrants who want to play hockey.
"When you're a teenager and you've just arrived to Canada and you're a newcomer, you have a lot of challenges in front of you," Hasham said.
"You want to fit in, you want to make friends, maybe you want to participate in sport. The sport of hockey is inaccessible to you just because of the cost."
Hasham said it can cost up to $4,000 to play one season of minor hockey, a major reason why 71 per cent of newcomers express interest in playing hockey, but only one per cent can actually do it, according to numbers from the Institute of Canadian Citizenship.
He said his organization operates in four cities — Hamilton, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto — with 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 maybe hadn't had a chance to ever play and just get them active and out here and trying," said Holterman.
"It's been amazing. It's been way more fun than I ever could have imagined and really rewarding."
Some of the girls said they weren't looking for the opportunity but wanted to take a chance and try something new.
"It's a sport that honestly, I never actually pictured myself doing in my life because I was always so scared and I just thought, you know, might as well try it," said Bahja Jama.
Fellow student Rouba El Khatib, who applied what she learned roller skating in Lebanon, said she realizes the benefits of playing ice hockey.
"I really forget anything I'm annoyed about outside of the rink and I just play with spirit and have a lot of fun, score some goals," said El Khatib.
"It always feels different and [it's] so fun being on the ice and playing whenever I'm on the ice."
With files from Sannah Choi