Kenya is mainly known in the sporting world for rugby. The East African climate is always hot, and unlike Canada, doesn’t have winters, so it’s hard to believe that Kenya has an ice hockey team, but they do. This in a country of 49.7 million people where only about 30 of them can skate.
They play in a small rink at the Panari Sky Center Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya. The 1,400-square-metre ice surface is meant for leisure skating but it has been converted into an ice hockey space. Unlike traditional hockey rinks, it doesn’t have rounded edges. The hotel opened in 2005 and offers many programs including skating and hockey lessons for kids.
Ben Azegere, the founder of the Ice Lions, became motivated to play hockey after watching the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. After the Olympics, Ben started going to the Panari Ice Rink in Nairobi. The first time he stepped on the ice he said “it felt like a soapy floor.” It wasn’t easy though. He recalls having a hard time learning the sport: “I remember going home one day after I was hit with a puck on my left eyebrow. I had around eight stitches and the t-shirt I was wearing was all bloody. When I went home, my family was like, ‘Really? Do you want to kill yourself? Don’t do this again, don’t go back to that rink,’” Azegere said during a press conference. “So I just kept quiet. The next day, I was back at the rink.”
They didn’t have goalie equipment so no one could play in net without getting injured, So what they used to do was, they had a rubber penguin and they put it at the center of the goal and to score you had to hit the penguin above the belly. The equipment they had was given to them by the employees at the Canadian consulate in Kenya.
In October, Tim Horton’s brought the team to Canada to play a game against a recreational hockey team in Toronto. Tim Horton’s surprised the team by bring in hockey starts Sidney Crosby and Nathan Mackinnon to play with the team. They recorded the team’s reactions and made a viral video of the event. Tim Horton’s also gave the players new hockey equipment and jerseys with the Ice Lions logo from CCM for free.
According to CNN’s Aimee Lewis, the Ice Lions have dreams of participating in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Now with the increased support their getting as a result of going viral, they could be on the world stage for the first time.