When you think of Kenya, Africa, chances are your thoughts don’t jump immediately to ice hockey. Yet Kenya does, in fact, have their very own ice hockey team.
The Kenya Ice Lions meet twice a week at the first-ever ice rink in Nairobi. The team does not have enough players to field two teams, so they have only ever played against each other and have never experienced the thrill of going up against another team.YouTube
When Canadian donuts and coffee company Tim Horton’s learned that Kenya has a hockey team with no one to play, they decided to bring all 12 amateur players to Canada for the game of a lifetime.
When the Ice Lions arrived in Toronto, Canada, they were greeted by Tim Horton’s representatives at the airport, brought to the stadium and given a treasure trove of hockey gear and goodies. In addition to the custom jerseys and new top-of-the-line equipment, the team was delighted to find that they’d have two more teammates added to their roster for this very special game.YouTube
Star Canadian hockey players Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche had suited up in Ice Lions jerseys to play alongside them!
“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,” stated 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.”YouTube
You can see the emotion in the Kenyan team’s faces as they stand in the locker room and meet their idols.
“Seeing my favorite player come in through the door wearing our jersey — I feel like I’m in heaven,” said one player reverently. Another actually reached out and touched Crosby’s face, asking “Is it really you?”
Both the African and Canadian teams had a wonderful time playing together, and when it was all over Sidney Crosby said one of the things he loves best about the sport is its ability to transcend borders and appeal to people from all walks of life.
“That’s the best part about the game is just how it reaches so many people in a place like Kenya where you wouldn’t think that there was even ice,” Sidney said.YouTube
Thanks to Tim Horton’s generous support of the Kenya Ice Lions, the team was able to take their new gear and skills back home to get their youth league off the ground. Hopefully, in time, the sport will grow enough in Kenya that they will be able to support an entire league. Until then, they’ve always got an honorary place on the Tim Horton’s roster.
Watch the incredibly moving video below, and don’t forget to share!