Kenya ice hockey team have Olympic-sized dreams


Kenya Ice Lions pose for a team photo following their game against a recreational team ...

The country may be known more for producing the world’s greatest long distance runners than winter athletes, but the Kenya ice hockey team are hoping a recent trip to Canada will help change that narrative.

Earlier this week the Kenya Ice Lions, who have nobody to play against back home, were featured in a heartwarming video in which Canadian coffee-and-donut chain Tim Hortons brought them to Toronto in mid-August to play their first game.

The video’s highlight came when National Hockey League stars Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon reduced the unsuspecting Ice Lions to tears as they walked into a locker room wearing the team’s green uniforms to join them for their game.

“You know, for us this is all like a dream come true,” Ice Lions captain and founder Benard Azegere told Reuters during a visit to Toronto this week.

The Ice Lions, based in a country too near the equator to have a real winter, are a sort of modern-day version of the Jamaica bobsleigh team that went to the 1988 Olympics and whose bizarre story inspired the making of the film “Cool Runnings”.

Azegere said the Ice Lions learned to play the game on a rink inside a Nairobi hotel with the help of online tutorials and a friendly group at the city’s High Commission of Canada who donated sticks and random pieces of equipment to the team.

“We didn’t have goalie equipment and nobody can take that risk to be a goalie without the proper gear,” said Azegere. “So what we used to do was we had a rubber penguin and we used to put it at the center of the goal and to score you had to hit the penguin above the belly.”

Azegere said there are only 30 hockey players in Kenya, a country with a population of nearly 50 million, a far cry from Canada where, according to the International Ice Hockey Federation, there are 637,000 registered players.

The 33-year-old Kenyan’s first exposure to the fast-paced and physical sport was in 2010 when he saw a game on TV from that year’s Vancouver Olympics, and he was immediately struck by the smooth way the players were able to move around the ice.

 

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Story By Reuters
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