Day 6

How the Montreal Canadiens helped this immigrant settle into Canada

It's been a long, improbable playoff run for the Montreal Canadiens — and it has left fans, including Pakistani-Canadian immigrant Dr. Tahira Ahmed, confident in the team's ability to pull off another upset.

Dr. Tahira Ahmed will be cheering for the team as they compete in the Stanley Cup finals

Dr. Tahira Ahmed says the Montreal Canadiens' current Stanley Cup Finals run reminds her of the team's previous championships from the 1980s and 1990s. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Dr. Tahira Ahmed was just 6 or 7 years old when she was introduced to ice hockey by a Canadian friend in Pakistan.

"I told him that he could bring roller skates and we could skate in the club arena, and he said, 'I ice skate,'" she told Day 6. "I said, 'What do you mean ice skating? Ice is dangerous.'"

The next time the two met, Ahmed's friend showed her pictures of hockey players skating on ice.

She couldn't fathom what she was seeing. 

"I kept saying, 'Yeah, but you must fall. You need roller skates,'" she said.

Ahmed has since become a big fan of hockey. When she immigrated to Ottawa as a 22-year-old in 1972, she would watch games with her husband on the family's black-and-white television. 

"I'm just looking at these people skating on ice seamlessly," she said. "I would just literally follow their feet as they glided and skated from one end to another."

"I would just get glued to the TV and I'd say, 'I've got to watch this game.'" ​​​-Dr. Tahira Ahmed

Ahmed is now watching the Montreal Canadiens, her favourite team, compete in its first Stanley Cup final since 1993 — nearly 50 years after she first fell in love with the team. 

'They are the Canadian team'

When Ahmed took an interest in hockey, her husband introduced her to the NHL's various teams. But there was only one team Ahmed cheered for: the Montreal Canadiens.

"We thought, 'OK, the Canadiens are Canada. They are the Canadian team,'" she said.

Ahmed was familiar with the team — her friend mentioned them when they were in Pakistan. This was the first time she was watching them in action, however.

Soon, she could identify all of the team's stars, including her favourite player, Guy Lafleur. 

"I fell in love with the dignity and the respectful way they played," she said. "They weren't rough and they weren't … throwing punches at people [and] other skaters."

Ahmed says the Canadiens helped her adapt as a new immigrant. Learning about their history helped her understand Canadian culture, and the players and their different backgrounds helped her with her Canadian geography.

Pretty soon, she was a die-hard Habs fan — and not even her husband could pull her away from the games.

"I would just get glued to the TV and I'd say, 'I've got to watch this game,' she said. "My husband [would say], 'Let's go for a walk.' I'm saying, 'No. Let the game finish.'"

Hockey and family

The Ahmeds moved to Halifax a few years after immigrating to Ottawa.

Ahmed says the Muslim community was small in Halifax, but there was a building that acted as a mosque. Behind the mosque was a lake, and that's where Ahmed passed on her love of hockey to her children, Sulemaan and Shireen.

"The lake would freeze in the winter, so my two children … we decided we should buy them skates. So where would they go skating? Right behind the mosque," she said.

Dr. Tahira Ahmed with her children Sulemaan, left, and Shireen. She passed on her love of ice hockey and the Montreal Canadiens to them. (Submitted by Sulemaan Ahmed, Submitted by Shireen Ahmed)

Ahmed also passed on her love for the Habs. Her children's first jerseys were red Montreal Canadiens jerseys, and the family would watch the team's games on their now-colour TV.

"These two children, when we watched the game, they would say, 'Can I do my homework quickly and come and watch the game?' And we … encouraged them to watch the games, but made sure that watching the game was a treat," she said.

Praying for a Stanley Cup

Ahmed has seen many Stanley Cup championships in her lifetime, including the Habs' most recent win in 1993. 

She says the team has shown great perseverance this season, and the current run reminds her of the team's Stanley Cup runs in the 1980s and 1990s. 

She hopes the Canadiens will bring the cup back home to Canada — and she says she's doing her part by keeping the team in her prayers.

"My husband [asks], 'Is that what you pray for?' I said, 'Yeah, I do,'" she said.

"There's nothing wrong [with it]. Sport is sport."

Written and produced by Mouhamad Rachini.

Hear full episodes of Day 6 on CBC Listen, our free audio streaming service.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now