Kenya's Ice Lions played 1 game in Canada. How a Toronto man helped them play 1 more
Tim Hortons recently flew 12 members of the Kenya Ice Lions team to Canada
The East African nation of Kenya has a population of more than 48 million people, but is home to only a single men's hockey team — the Kenya Ice Lions.
Every Wednesday and Sunday, the Ice Lions take to the country's first-ever rink — a 1,400-square-metre facility in the capital Nairobi — and play the game they love. Only problem is, there's nobody to play against.
Moved by their love for Canada's national sport, Tim Hortons recently flew 12 members of the Ice Lions to Canada to finally play their first game ever against another team. The exhibition game also featured two of the greatest players in the game — NHL superstars Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, who joined them on the ice as teammates.
But that left the Ice Lions only wanting more.
Garry Mercer, the owner of a Toronto trucking company, said he was tipped off by friend with connections in Kenya that the team would be interested in playing another game.
He said he immediately jumped into action, pulling friends and family together to form a team to go up against the Kenyan side.
"We quickly got all the guys together and got them all organized.
He even made sure the Kenyans, who were without a goaltender, had someone in their net — his son, Brennan.
They needed a goalie, [and we] got a referee," he told CBC Toronto.
"Two hours together on a Wednesday night [at Westwood Arena in Etobicoke], they all came and it was a great experience."
Mercer said while it is sometimes taken for granted that Canadians can always find someone to grab a stick, find some ice and play a game, that's not necessarily the case in other countries.
"Canada is the home of hockey and when we hear someone from Africa wants to come and play here and play hockey we're happy just to bring it on and show the excitement," he said.
"We had their flag on their dressing room door. We took some beers into the dressing room for them. [It was a] classic experience."
'They didn't want to stop'
Mercer said with a bit of coaching the Kenya Ice Lions would be a great team.
"We played two hours of hockey with them we were beat. They didn't want to stop," he said.
Mercer's son Brennan said they just kept shooting at him.
"I still have some bruises from that game for sure," Brennan Mercer said. "It's honestly one of the best moments of my life.
"They only have one rink in Kenya and it's a skating rink the size of half an end zone. So, my hope for them is to actually play at a high level, to actually start a hockey federation, and actually travel as a hockey team."
A 'dream' playing with Crosby and MacKinnon
The Ice Lions say they are grateful for the opportunity to visit the birthplace of hockey.
"It is a dream to not only have the chance to play in Canada, but to play — for the first time — in full gear alongside two of the greatest players of the game," says Benard Azegere, captain of the Kenya Ice Lions.
"When we first started playing in Kenya, we didn't even have full equipment, but now not only do we have that, we can say we've played a real game with some All-Star teammates."
With files from Alison Chiasson