Category: Africa (Page 1 of 2)

University Students From Ghana Dream To Grow Hockey On Concrete And Ice

Blader Skates Ghana

By Kyle Drinnan – The Puck Authority

In life, we have a habit of making possible ideas impossible. In the same vein, we make those possible ideas too good that it becomes unrealistic. To dismiss the idea that ice hockey can be played around the world, like in Africa, is making the possible, impossible. But looking at the harsh realities that the sport has, no history, not a suitable climate, and lack of facilities is the realistic side of growing the sport.

But it’s possible. South Africa, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia are the only African nations to be represented in the IIHF, with three of them joining in the past 10 years. Even without a membership, Egypt and Kenya have made bigger steps in their quest to join the organization. Now in Ghana, there are grassroots organizations that are ready to make the impossible, possible. Ice hockey in Ghana.

BLADER SKATES GHANA is a not-for-profit organization that wants to make a pathway for ice hockey in Ghana. It was founded by Bright Ababio Mensah, and was co-founded by Henry D.K Mensah and Kwame Sefa Johnson. It is located in the capital of the country, Accra, and is found in the University of Cape Coast. The organization is focusing on all kinds of skating, including skateboarding and inline hockey. The dream of most members is to help develop ice hockey, but they are focusing on what they currently have, and without an ice rink, there are easier sports to first develop.

“Yes, there is. Both are somewhat of a contact sport, except bodychecks are not allowed in inline hockey and inline roller skates are used instead of ice skates, as is used in ice hockey,” said Bright Ababio Mensah, founder of BLADER SKATES GHANA. “The equipment is similar.”

Although similar, ice hockey and inline hockey in terms of governance are very much different. Ice hockey, of course, is governed by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), and while inline hockey used to be governed by the IIHF, in recent years, World Skate has taken over to develop the sport. World Skate has a lot of sports under its organization. The most popular sport in its arsenal would be skateboarding, which made its debut in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

While Ghana has no organization with the IIHF, they are members of World Skate. However, Mensah said that Ghana Skaters Association, the one connected with World Skate, has had its activity halted and has been dormant for a while.

So, BLADER SKATES GHANA picked up the responsibility as soon as it was established in 2019. Since then, the group’s numbers have grown and taken off, having seen registration trend upwards since 2020. The group wants to start educating its population on the sports, but unlike hockey organizations, they have many different sports they want to market to their citizens.

“(We want) public education on skating, and the development of roller sports in Ghana are two of the major aims of our organization,” Mensah said. “So, we try to link the skating to a lot of sports disciplines in the likes of roll-ball, 100 meters and relay race, as well as high and long jumps, hockey, speed skating, and many others.”

It is also tough, as there is only one place to buy equipment, and that is in the nation’s capital, Accra. However, interest has started to show in more provinces around the country, and there are hopes that the interest will help make sports more accessible in the country.

Winter sports have a unique relationship with Ghana. Ghana is one of the rare countries in Africa that are involved with at least one of the seven sports bodies that make up the Winter Olympics. They are also in a more exclusive group where the country is involved with two.

Ghana is a member of both the International Ski Association (FIS) and the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF). Ghana has been in three Winter Olympics, with their first being in 2010 Vancouver. They missed out in Sochi, but were represented in Pyeongchang and Beijing.

Ghana’s first winter Olympic athlete, Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, has helped set up the Ghanaian Winter Olympic Association and hopes to build Ghana’s first artificial ski slope.

But right now, ice hockey is a far goal for Ghana. Even with Mensah’s interest, it is a long and winding road. However, the development of inline will help the future goal. Nations like Jamaica, and even places in the United States, have used an iceless hockey form to help teach the locals about the sport and get the government involved with the sport.

“We want to have started regional and nationwide inline hockey, and then would have been supported with at least one ice hockey rink to start training,” Mensah said, “and to host competitions for the whole of the West African Subregion.”

But right now, the organization needs equipment and training for inline hockey if they want to grow the sport. Any help, no matter how big or small, would be appreciated by BLADER SKATES GHANA.

Twitter: @bladerskatesgh
Instagram: @bladerskatesgh

Why Olympics silver medalist Oduya is on a mission to establish ice hockey in Kenya

Former Swedish professional ice hockey defenceman with Kenyan roots Johnny Oduya in action with the Kenya National team The Ice Lions hockey team at the Panari Solar Ice Rink on July 13, 2022.

Just like former US President Barack Hussein Obama, the life script of Winter Olympics ice hockey men’s silver medalist David Johnny Oduya quite reads the same.

They both had a white mother, and a black father who passed away when they were really young and the dads were from Kenya and of Luo descent.

Oduya, a two-time National Hockey League (NHL) champion is in the country this week for two missions; to support the establishment of ice hockey in Kenya and to trace his Luo roots in Kendu Bay, Karachuonyo Constituency in Homa Bay County where his late father hailed.

The former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman on Wednesday night took part in an exhibition game with the national team, the Ice Lions, at the Panari Ice Rink in Nairobi.

He played the full match where he also supported the budding local players with expensive standardized playing gear including gloves, hockey sticks, pads, jerseys, roller skates, bags, clothing, and other variety of gifts. He also furnished the players with technical skills of the game.

“The players have great potential, they are very good from what I had initially thought of them, and they have the commitment, the drive and the love for the sport.

“They love playing hockey more than anything else, I think that’s the most beautiful thing,” Oduya told Standard Sports.

From the match he played, Oduya believes Kenya has great potential to produce a professional player who can be a force in the NHL.

“For one to be a pro, they need to have passion, dedication, fun, persistence, and commitment.

“I mean they should just love what they do for a very long time. I have seen all these qualities from the game we just had,” he underscored.

The Stanley Cup champion is very confident that the sport will gradually pick up in Kenya after overseeing its establishment in Thailand ten years ago.

 “We went to Thailand in 2012 during the NHL break and helped develop the game and the players.

The sport has so far grown there, Thailand is building new rinks and more youths are loving the sport. They are playing it with passion.

“I strongly believe this will also be possible with Kenya as well, now that the country, at least, has an ice rink, one of the few ice hockey arenas in the continent,” he underlined.

Despite winning an Olympics silver with the Sweden national team at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia in 2014 and bronze at the World Championships in Kloten, Switzerland in 2009, Oduya says his greatest moment in the sport was when he lifted the coveted NHL Stanley Cup with the dreaded Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015.

“Stanley Cup is the most difficult trophy to win in team sport. So I felt proud in those times as I’m the first player, of African heritage, from Europe to make that bold move to America to make that dream come true in my professional career,” he said.

Since his retirement from the sport four years ago, Oduya, 40, has been having a strong urge to spread the game in Africa, starting with Kenya.

It is on this note that he is also seizing the opportunity to establish a connection with his father’s roots. 

Oduya, whose mother is Swedish, will this weekend head to Kendu Bay where the remains of his father, who passed on in 1993, were buried.

“Just like Obama, I’m trying to know more about my roots, I feel there is a part of me in Karachuonyo that I need to explore. I want to know more about my people from my father’s side.

“I interacted with my father briefly, not that much, the last time he was in Sweden in 1993 shortly before he passed away.

“I have been looking forward to meeting my other family in Kenya for a very long time and I’m really excited about that,” he said.

  • David Johnny Oduya at a glance
  • Born: October 1, 1981 (age 40)
  • Nationality: Swedish
  • Height: 6 ft 0 in (183 cm)
  • Weight: 195 lb (88 kg; 13 st 13 lb)
  • Position: Defence
  • Shot: Left
  • Teams played for:

  • Djurgårdens IF
  • Frölunda HC
  • New Jersey Devils
  • Atlanta Thrashers
  • Winnipeg Jets
  • Chicago Blackhawks
  • Dallas Stars
  • Ottawa Senators
  • Philadelphia Flyers
  • National team: Sweden
  • NHL Draft: 221st overall, 2001 Washington Capitals
  • Playing career: 1999–2018
  • Medal record
  • Men’s ice hockey
  • Representing Sweden Sweden
  • Winter Olympics
  • Silver medal – second place  2014 Sochi        
  • World Championships
  • Bronze medal – third place  2009 Kloten
  • wards and honor        
  • NHL Stanley Cup (Chicago Blackhawks)   2013, 2015

Heronbridge College learner selected as part of South African U20 ice hockey team heading to Mexico

Nicholas Tylor in action in the World Championships in Bosnia.

Source: Fourway Review

Following a successful Ice Hockey World Championships in Bosnia in April, Heronbridge College learner and ice hockey player, Nicholas Tylor said he couldn’t wait for his next trip to Mexico in July.

Nicholas was part of the South Africa U18 National Ice Hockey team that recently won bronze in the World Championships, and will now represent his country at U20 level.

“It was an incredible opportunity for me to be a part of this national team and represent South Africa internationally. To be able to travel and play abroad against stronger teams will help improve the game for my team and myself.”
Nicholas, who started playing ice hockey eight years ago, hoped that the lessons learned at the World Championships would help him and the U20 national team to perform well in an upcoming competition in Mexico.

“I have no doubt that playing in the championships will enhance the level of play that we can bring home to South Africa. I’m so excited about travelling to Mexico. We will be playing against the Mexican team but as far as the other countries involved in the championship, we are still waiting for that confirmation.

South Africa back on the ice at IIHF World Championship after long break

Uthman Samaai has played for South Africa for nearly a decade, and played his college hockey at Nazareth College in New York.

By  Leonard Solms – ESPN

South Africa’s men’s ice hockey team will return to competitive action for the first time in nearly three years this weekend, as they host the 2022 IIHF World Championship Division III B in Cape Town.

From March 13-18, GrandWest Arena will host South Africa, Thailand, and Bosnia & Herzegovina in Division III B, with the teams playing each other twice. The side at the top of the standings will earn promotion to Division III A.

The Rhinos’ last competitive outing ended in relegation from the World Championship Division III A in Bulgaria, and then COVID-19 denied them a shot at promotion in 2020 and 2021.

As recently as 2015, South Africa played in Division II Group B. They were relegated that year and steadily fell down the Division III table before suffering yet another demotion four years later.

For context, the International Ice Hockey Federation divides teams into five divisions, with teams like the USA and Canada competing in the Championship division [16 teams]. Division II, which is South Africa’s target, features teams like China, Iceland, and Australia.

According to Rhinos captain Uthman Samaai, it has been difficult to replace the strong core of players that drove their success in 2015, and they’re only now finding their feet.

The costs associated with the game, which is not widely played at the tip of Africa where it very rarely drops to icy temperatures, prohibits new talent from rising from a grassroots level. Equipment is not readily available, and ice rinks are few and far between.

Samaai told ESPN: “Ice hockey is obviously a very expensive sport to play — especially in South Africa, because a lot of the stuff has to be imported.

“There was a period of time when there were older players leaving and the talent coming through wasn’t matching the experienced players leaving.

“We had a bit of a transformation for a couple of years, where we needed those older players to stay for a bit longer to give those younger players the opportunity to make mistakes.

“Since 2020, we’ve closed that gap very nicely. The younger players have a ton of experience and we only have one or two newcomers in the team this year, which is good to see.”

Despite lack of international action this decade, South Africa remain the top-ranked team in Africa despite their recent struggles and there is a contingent within the team that has overseas experience.

“I studied in Rochester, New York, for four years, where I played for [D3 school] Nazareth College. Cameron Birrell played a bunch of hockey in England and he played hockey in America growing up [with the Michigan Mountain Cats],” Samaai said.

“Reinhard Venter was playing [for Vermont Lumberjacks in the Easter Hockey League] before COVID and then his tournament got cut short, so he came home.”

That there is a team at all is impressive, given there is very little money in ice hockey in South Africa, and the players compete for the love of it in regional tournaments for small salaries. A number of players on the national team compete in the Gauteng Premier Hockey League [GPHL], which features 10 teams from Pretoria and Johannesburg.

Samaai, who most recently played for the Cape Town Kings in the WPIHL, works for the City of Cape Town’s media department, while his teammates’ day jobs vary tremendously.

He explained: “A few of [our players] are digital designers. We’ve got a couple of teachers. We’ve got a headmaster. We’ve got people who work for American companies and guys who work in crypto, a few students – one of them is studying mechanical engineering and the other is studying to be a priest.

“I think that we’ve got a very wide variety of people, but I guess that’s kind of what makes the team so nice. We come from very different backgrounds, but when we get together, it’s like magic.”

South Africa are aiming for immediate promotion to Division III A and, according to Samaai, will not be satisfied with anything less. The withdrawal of Hong Kong from the upcoming tournament at GrandWest has at least narrowed down their competition.

“The goal in 2020, when we got together, was to get back to Division II in the next five years. Obviously, we’re chasing that same goal,” Samaai said.

“This year, we want to win it. I don’t think that there’s anything less that we can really be proud of.

“Next year, in [Division] III [A], I think we would be happy with placing, and the following year, we want to win it. The three-year goal is basically to get back to Division II B.”

Tunisia becomes the 82nd member country of the IIHF

By Desk Sports Team – Bolly Inside

Tunisia, led by long-time president Ihab Ayed, will become an associate member of the organization, meaning they can only participate in minor international events and won’t be able to vote at the IIHF Congresses. This is partly because Tunisia doesn’t have a legal IIHF rink, so the team participates abroad. With no full-size ice rink available to play in Tunisia, the hockey movement is led by Tunisians abroad, in particular by President Ihab Ayed, who played for Francais Volants Paris and the Courbevoie Coqs in the fourth tier of French hockey. It’s in the Paris suburb where Ayed organized his Tunisian team’s first game on 14 June 2014 that ended with a 6-5 win for Courbevoie

Tunisia Becomes 82nd IIHF Member Country Tunisia joins a group of 22 associate members, including Colombia, Lebanon, Brazil and Jamaica. Both Algeria and Morocco fall under this jurisdiction.

Two years later, the Eagles played in the Arab Clubs Ice Hockey Championship in Abu Dhabi, finishing third to teams from the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon. Tunisia is the eighth Arab country in the IIHF now.

The IIHF also approved Singapore’s move to full member status, allowing the team to participate in events such as the World Championship.  The Tunisian Ice Hockey Association was founded back in 2009 and played its first,  and only game to date, as the national team against French unit Coqs de Courbevoie back in 2014. Tunisia, playing as a club team Carthage Eagles of Tunisia, won its first international tournament, the 2016 African Ice Hockey Cup, after beating the Rabat Capitals from Morocco in the final.

The future is female: Kenya’s Ice Lions

By Liz Montroy –Women Hockey Life

If you were to stop by the Solar Ice Rink in Nairobi’s Panari Sky Centre on a Wednesday night or Saturday morning—pre-COVID-19, that is—you’d come across the Kenya Ice Lions playing three-on-three shinny on the small, 32 by 12 metre ice surface.

Amongst the players you’d probably spot Faith Sihoho, who is currently the only adult Kenyan female engaged in the sport.

“She was one of three women players who turned up fairly regularly,” Canadian Tim Colby, who has been helping the Kenya Federation of Ice Sports (KEFIS) build their hockey program, said of first meeting Sihoho when she picked up the sport in 2017. “They stood out not just because they were the only women, but because of their determination. We didn’t have much equipment back then and you came out with more than a few bruises and cuts, but none of these women backed down despite the fact they were just starting to learn the game.”

While Sihoho enjoyed roller skating, she didn’t know ice hockey was played in Nairobi—at least, not until one of her friends invited her out to watch.

“The first [time] I sat on the bench and I watched, the second time the same,” said Sihoho. “Then one day […] our captain, he just gave me the skates and told me to get in. It was my first time using even the hockey stick and everything, but slowly, slowly I learned.”

Now Sihoho is a key member of the Ice Lions, playing and coaching in addition to lending her accounting knowledge and experience as an assistant financial manager for KEFIS. She is extremely dedicated to the team, even building a career for herself (her own business selling organic self-care products) that gives her the flexibility she needs to attend ice times.

“Faith brings a lot to the team,” said Colby. “She’s tough, she doesn’t complain, and she’s come a long way learning the game, and this gets noticed. It not only earns her respect, but it demonstrates to others the relationship between hard work and success and to never give up.”

The story of the Ice Lions has been well documented, with the team receiving heightened media attention in 2018, including a video feature produced by Tim Hortons and an ESPN article focused on the team’s female players. Since then, the Ice Lions have experienced a series of ups and downs. While they found opportunities to face new competition through tournaments organized by groups such as the Howe International Friendship League, they’ve also seen their rink—the first to be built in East and Central Africa—close indefinitely due to local pandemic restrictions and lockdowns.

When and how the ice surface will be available again is unknown. However, that doesn’t mean that the Ice Lions have been inactive. On the contrary—despite not having access to ice for over a year, the team has been hard at work and focused on the future, which looks particularly bright for Kenya’s young female players.

Having enough women playing to be able to form a female hockey team is still one of their goals. The number of Kenyan women playing has fluctuated over the last few years, but KEFIS has upwards of 16 girls in their youth program.

“We hope the upcoming ones, we have so many, the young girls, so we hope they will stick to hockey,” said Sihoho. “It’s challenging to get females to play here [… ]but people are trying to change, people are trying to be accepting of women in sports[…]for us grown-ups over 20, we just hope the [younger players] will get support in playing.”

“We have a very small ice rink, but the youth sessions were getting so popular we had to split the ice into two halves for practices, and there were a lot of young girls coming out,” said Colby. “You can really see immense progress with the girls. I work them pretty hard and they pick things up fast—much faster than when I coached kids back home [in Canada].”

With on-ice sessions not currently possible, Colby, Sihoho, and the Ice Lions have been getting creative with inline and ball hockey outreach.

“The Ice Lions are very generous and support some children homes and play ball hockey with them, raise funds, and we’ll get these kids skating when the ice is back,” said Colby. “Many Ice Lions come from an inline roller hockey background so we’re organizing tournaments for this and engaging with inline players to get them interested in ice hockey.”

In addition, steps are being taken to join the IIHF, gear inventory is in progress, and yearly budget plans are being developed. The team is also working with the Hungarian Embassy in Kenya to organize off-ice skills development sessions with a Hungarian coach, and they’ve continued to engage with their community and fans through social media and their GoFundMe campaign.

For Sihoho, sharing her love for hockey with others, particularly young up-and-coming female players, has made the challenges of the last year worth it.

“Personally for me, ice hockey has made me become more disciplined, and I have been able to accomplish so much in that,” said Sihoho. “It forces you to work hard […]there’s just something, a renewed energy, and you feel like you want to keep on doing it.”

Kylington, Oduya helping to grow hockey in Africa

Oliver Kylington and Johnny Oduya

By Salim Valji – TSN

On the same weekend the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs was being played in North America, a different hockey game featuring NHL talent was taking place in a large parking lot on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya.

Twenty-four-year-old Calgary Flames defenceman Oliver Kylington and 39-year-old Johnny Oduya, who played 850 games in the NHL from 2006-18, were in the East African country playing roller hockey with locals and the Kenya Ice Lions, the nation’s only team playing organized hockey.

The pair of defencemen also donated equipment through sponsors, visited neighbourhoods and met with locals.

To plan the weekend, Kylington and Oduya collaborated with the Ice Lions, who play in a country that has just one ice hockey rink. It’s located in a hotel but has been shut down for more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Comprised of mainly adult males, the Ice Lions compete in intrasquad games and bring in guest players to participate as well.

“We brought these plastic pucks and they were shooting and guys were going down, blocking shots with no equipment,” Kylington said from Nairobi. “I would never see a Swedish kid do that. We’re like, ‘What is going on here?’” 

“It’s almost like watching a Stanley Cup Final,” said Oduya, who was born in Stockholm and won Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015. 

“They’re playing on the street on a Sunday for three hours. It’s fascinating.’”

Oliver Kylington in Kenya

Kylington and Oduya have known each other since Kylington’s father introduced them when he was around eight years old. Oduya became a big brother to Kylington, someone with many shared experiences as a fellow hockey-playing Swede with African heritage. Kylington’s mother is from the Eastern African country of Eritrea, while Oduya’s father is from the Luo tribe of Kenya. 

After meeting, they’ve gone on to train and vacation together over the years. Now, they are trying to grow the sport together on the continent of their ancestors.

“It’s been mind-blowing meeting people and seeing that passion for hockey in their eyes,” Kylington said. 

This was the first time he’d been to Africa since he was 10.

“It’s been really humbling to see where the kids playing here have grown up,” he said. “You get a lot of perspective. You realize quickly not to take things for granted.”

Recently, Oduya created a sports performance brand called Atunya, a word from the Luo tribe which means relentless.

“So, like the action of the lion,” Oduya said, “I wanted to tie it in and try to open up quite a segregated game, which hockey is.”

Three years ago, the Ice Lions were flown to Toronto to play their first organized games and met Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Colorado Avalanche star centre Nathan MacKinnon. A video documenting that trip went viral.

Now, the NHLers are coming to them.

“They put on a huge show,” Ice Lions coach Tim Colby, a Canadian diplomat, said. “They brought tons of gear and jerseys. Things like that are really inspiring for the team.”

He was also impressed with how Oduya and Kylington genuinely wanted to learn about the country’s life and culture. Kylington did much of the legwork in terms of arranging donations and organizing logistics.

“Oliver asked tons of questions about life here,” Colby said. “Neither of them wanted to leave.”

Colby has witnessed firsthand the power of hockey in shaping lives and the influence of having the likes of Kylington and Oduya involved in developing the sport in Kenya. It allows participants to dream big, not just in sports but also in other areas of their lives.

“The players just see the world differently when they start playing,” he said. “The world now is no longer just Nairobi. It’s not where they live. All of a sudden, they have a chance to go somewhere internationally…at least you have the opportunity to think that way now.”

Chances are Kylington, Oduya and Colby will find themselves together on that same parking lot in Nairobi for puck drop again in the near future.

While their first voyage to Kenya was short, Oduya and Kylington plan to return in a year to bring even more gear, play more games, and further integrate into the culture.

Their ultimate goal is to introduce Africans to hockey, both for exercise and as a tool for social mobility.

“It’s a way for them to come to the rink, stay out of trouble, and do positive things,” Oduya said.

For both of them, it has meant even more than that.

“I would say it’s been the best trip of my life so far,” Kylington said.

“I’m taking a lot with me. It’s been amazing. It’s so hard to put into words. For me as a grown-up now, coming back to Africa, you understand more about stuff in life. You’re seeing what people really fight for and how hockey can bring joy to them. It’s amazing and unbelievable to see that passion…just them loving the game.”

“You get touched emotionally in a different way when you’re there,” Oduya said. “In some ways it’s challenging to visit, but there’s so much enthusiasm from them. The kids we met have the mindset of possibility.”

Sirin Kasem – the first Tunisian Women ice hockey player

By Vitaly Nesterov – Sports.ru

Tunisia, to put it mildly, does not often give birth to hockey players, but now the North African country can be proud of a historic event – the first women hockey player with Tunisian roots playing in Canada.

Her name is Sirin Kasem and her parents are from Tunisia. She has been playing hockey since she was 7 years old, and since season 18/19 Sirin has been playing for the Quebec A’s from the Quebec Triple-A League. At the end of the 19/20 season, Sirin scored 13 goals in 22 games and took 12th place in the league’s top scorers list, and the team won the main trophy – The Cup of Canada.

Everything is just beginning for me. The Cup of Canada is not the limit. I am grateful to my parents for everything they have done. They were always present at my games, they cheer me up after a bad games and taught me a lot, for example, to be persistent and strong. They have always supported me, and in the end it helped a lot, ”said Kassem.

Immediately after the end of the season, Sirin was invited to the QCHL (Quebec College Hockey League) team “Les Titans du Cégep Limoilou”. The head coach of the Titans, Pascal Dufresne, said that the attacking qualities of there new hockey player are excellent.

But Sirin’s dream has nothing to do with hockey. She wants to become a surgeon and is making every effort to make her dream come true.

Egypt in the IIHF? It’s time for a pyramid scheme

By Hussein Kamel – The Hockey News

Sameh Ramadan is a busy man. By day he lives in New Jersey, where he works in sales and marketing. By night the American-born Egyptian dual citizen is a senior advisor for Egypt’s club team and the point person in the country’s quest to join the International Ice Hockey Federation.

Ramadan, who joined Egypt Ice Hockey in 2016, is working tirelessly to establish a winter sports federation in Egypt in hopes of one day having the nation participate in international competitions. Ever the salesman, Ramadan has put his marketing chops to good use, rebranding Egypt Ice Hockey by revamping the team logo with a previously designed pharaoh wearing a goalie mask in the style of Jason Voorhees from Friday The 13th.

Ramadan – along with fellow committee members Yasser Ahmed, Ayman Abdallah, Ahmed Ramadan and Mahmoud Ghonaim – is also working to stage a game in front of the Pyramids of Giza to raise awareness about hockey in Egypt.

“Just imagine that vision in front of the pyramids, how crazy would that be?” he said. “If we are able to pull off a game at the pyramids, it would be an iconic scene – ice hockey in the desert in front of one of the ancient wonders of the world.”

The idea isn’t as pie in the sky as you might think. The plateau in front of the pyramids, which is used for concerts, graduations and other affairs, has hosted sporting events in the past, including the annual Egyptian Squash Open. Ramadan is working with charitable organizations Hockey4All and The Hockey Foundation on the logistics of staging the event. The hope is to build a real ice rink (rather than a synthetic one) in front of the pyramids and host a sports festival.

Egyptian Squash Open

As head of Egypt Ice Hockey, as well as a left winger for the country’s team, Ramadan is always on the lookout for new talent across the globe. Whenever he crosses paths with anyone in the hockey community, he always makes a point of asking, “Do you know any good hockey players with Egyptian citizenship?”

And he’s not just looking for men. As a father of three young girls, all of whom play hockey in New Jersey, he’s hoping to establish a women’s team in Egypt as well. To that end, he’s identified eight to 10 dual-citizen girls under the age of 12 who are playing at the highest level of hockey in their respective countries.

In February, Egypt competed at the six-team Arab Professional Club Championship, with Lebanon, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and host Kuwait. (Tunisia and Algeria were also invited, but neither could make it.) The tournament, which was the second edition, marked the opening of a new ice rink in Kuwait.

The club has come a long way since Ramadan’s first competition, the 2016 Africa Ice Hockey Clubs Cup in Morocco. Egypt showed up with nine players, two of whom were under 14, and only one goalie. The outcome was as expected, as the club team finished plum last.

“We now have a list of players,” Ramadan said. “We are rejecting a ton of people and asking for videos.”

Sameh Ramadan

The players come primarily from New Jersey, Montreal and Cairo, and all of them pay their own way. To recruit new players, Egypt Ice Hockey relies heavily on word of mouth and social media. Members of the team play a pivotal role in the recruiting process by reaching out to clubs and coaches and asking whether any of their players are dual citizens. According to Ramadan, since the team began participating in tournaments, and especially after their overhauled logo went viral on Reddit, they’ve been getting more emails from players and coaches who are interested in joining the club.

At the Arab Clubs Tournament in 2018 in the UAE, Egypt managed to come away with its first competition win, beating Algeria’s club team 8-7 to finish fourth out of five teams. This February in Kuwait, Egypt will again participate as a club team, not a national team. Since the IIHF doesn’t sanction club competitions, the teams are allowed to bring non-nationals. Yet Egypt Ice Hockey has decided to limit the number of foreign players regardless, in order to give more chances to players with Egyptian nationalities. “We’re not so much bothered about our record as much as the year-to-year improvement and our growth,” Ramadan said.

Egyptian team at the 2018 Arab Clubs Tournament

If Egypt’s program continues to grow, the hope is the country will eventually join the ranks of the IIHF. If so, Egypt would become only the fourth African nation to do so, joining Algeria, Morocco and South Africa. Last year, the IIHF welcomed Algeria, Colombia, Iran, Lebanon and Uzbekistan.
For most upstart non-hockey nations, the biggest hurdle is a lack of equipment. But thanks to donations from The Hockey Foundation and Hockey4All, Ramadan has all the equipment he needs.

To move forward, Egypt Ice Hockey is simply seeking a piece of paper from either the Egyptian Sports Minister or the Egyptian Olympic Committee.

“All I need is a letter, which is free,” Ramadan said. “The letter would say that Egypt Ice Hockey can continue to get an ice hockey education and bring that knowledge to Egypt – basically that the club can develop the hockey interest in Egypt. And with that we can apply to be an affiliate member to the IIHF.”

If Ramadan gets his wish, a new hockey nation will officially be born.

Kenya Ice Lions ready to roar

By William Douglas – NHL.com

Program working toward IIHF membership, chance to play in Olympics.

The Kenya Ice Lions are ready to roar.

Almost two years after becoming social media sensations when the video of their game in Canada with Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon went viral, the Ice Lions feel they are ready to conquer the hockey world.

The next step for the Nairobi-based team with Olympic dreams is seeking membership in the International Ice Hockey Federation.

Ice Lions officials are in the process of forming the Kenya Federation of Ice Sports, a body that would be recognized by the Kenyan government to develop hockey, speedskating and figure skating. The federation would have the authority to apply for IIHF affiliate status for Kenya.

“We are very, very close to becoming a federation now,” said Tim Colby, a Canadian expat who is the Ice Lions’ general manager and coach. “We’re almost there. It’s a lot of bureaucratic hurdles. I’d say in a couple of months we’ll put in the application. We’ve already been in touch with the IIHF and they’re very eager to have us join as affiliates.”

If approved, Kenya would join Algeria, Morocco and South Africa as the only IIHF members on the continent. Egypt and Tunisia are also trying to join the 81-nation federation.

Kenya’s effort has been buoyed by the media attention from the Crosby-MacKinnon event, which was arranged by Tim Hortons, and by an ad from the China-based Alibaba Group that ran during the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics and featured the Ice Lions.

“I think the turning point is the Tim Hortons thing about two years ago, when they came back with full sets of gear,” said Jon Saunders, a former Miami University defenseman who shuttles between London and Nairobi and helps coach the Ice Lions. “With the coaching that had been done and some of the notoriety, things just picked up from there. The skill level, on a scale of one to 10, went from a two to about six or seven. Now it’s quite competitive; they’ve gotten really good.”

The spotlight bought the team fame — some Ice Lions traveled to PyeongChang for the 2018 Olympics — and some good fortune. Tim Hortons donated some much-needed new equipment to the Ice Lions along with about $22,500 that Colby said recently arrived in Nairobi.

North Park Hockey, a nonprofit youth team in New York, was so fascinated by the Ice Lions’ story after watching the Crosby-MacKinnon video that they adopted the team and donated about $10,000. The team is using the funds to renovate its locker room and pay for ice time at their small rink inside Nairobi’s Panari Hotel. The rink is the only indoor ice surface in Central and East Africa. Colby admits it’s not perfect — but it’s home.

“There’s an ice resurfacing machine, about half the size of a Volkswagen, and you can’t flood and scrape at the same time,” he said. “But the ice quality is good. We’re stuck with square corners, though.”

The rink and the hotel are near a national park where tourists can catch glimpses of leopards, cheetahs, and rhinos. But a growing number of hockey aficionados are coming to the region to see the Ice Lions. Hockey Hall of Famer Viacheslav Fetisov made the journey to play with the Kenyans in March 2019 as part of his project in partnership with the United Nations to highlight climate change.

Fetisov visit to Kenya

The contest, with Fetisov’s Last Game team, was the first international hockey game played in Kenya.

Bernie Saunders, who became the NHL’s fifth black player when he played 10 games for the Quebec Nordiques in 1979-80 and 1980-81, skated with the Ice Lions last year and watched his son coach.

“I think it was pretty cool for him,” said Jon Saunders, whose late uncle, John Saunders, was a hockey analyst and sportscaster for ABC and ESPN. “I don’t know what he was expecting to see going into it, but I think it meant a lot to him.”

Rick Lipsey, a North Park Hockey team manager and parent-coach, made the trek to Nairobi with his two sons to skate with the Kenyans and present them with an oversized check and bags full of hockey items donated by Pure Hockey, Howies Hockey Tape and Renfrew Pro, a maker of hockey tape.

“It was a great time and life-changing,” Lipsey, a former Sports Illustrated writer, said of the 4 1/2 days in Nairobi. “They actually are pretty good. They are not NHL or junior hockey level, but the kids can wheel and deal over there. Some of them could be really good hockey players given the opportunity.”

When Kirika Mugo, a resident of Washington, D.C., learned that his homeland had a hockey team, he couldn’t wait to take his son Austin to Nairobi in February 2019 to play with a team comprised of black players. The two enjoyed it so much that they made a return trip this February; Austin practiced with the team in one session that ran from 8 p.m. until nearly midnight.

“I felt proud because I don’t get to see that in the States,” said Austin, who played for Washington’s Alice Deal Middle School last season. “The majority of my teammates are white, so this was an experience.”

So how did hockey come to Kenya? Colby said some University of Manitoba students were in Nairobi on a research project in 2006 when they discovered that the city had an ice rink.

“They saw the ice and, being Canadian, they said, ‘Whoa!'” Colby said. “The next time they came back, they bought their equipment and started playing. And some guys, including one who is our team captain now, saw it and said, ‘Wow, this is crazy, I’ve got to try it. And it snowballed from there.”

The captain, Bernard Azegere, approached Colby and asked him if he’d like to coach the novice players. Colby was reluctant but eventually agreed.

“I said, ‘Guys, let’s play shinny and have fun — it’s one (heck) of a difficult sport to take to the next level,'” he said. “They’re, like, ‘Aw, come on!’ They’re watching the NHL, they’re watching the Olympics. They’re, like, ‘We want a national team to compete in the Olympics.’ They were so into it, I finally gave in and started helping out.”

Colby said the Kenyan hockey program has about 24 adults — including one woman — and 25 youth players. Lipsey said those numbers could grow if players from a vibrant roller hockey community in Nairobi make the transition to ice.

“There’s this big parking lot in downtown Nairobi where every Saturday and Sunday they skate for 4-8 hours and they get a few hundred people,” he said. “They just play roller hockey, rollerblading, they have races. That’s where their farm system is for the ice hockey. They take the kids who are able to get to the rink.”

Colby’s players pride themselves for their growth on the ice. Their coach takes satisfaction in what hockey has done for their growth as individuals.

“I’m watching kids who were so shy before, didn’t speak, do television interviews, international media,” Colby said. “Our one female player, Faith, she’s gone from nothing to everything as far as confidence goes. Sports is a great tool for that.”

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