Kenya’s first and only ice hockey team is helping to increase interest in the sport for a new generation of players.
The Kenya Ice Lions train at least three times a week at the Panari Sky Center in Nairobi. It is one of the few ice rinks in eastern and central Africa.
Tim Colby moved to Nairobi in 2010 to work for the Canadian embassy. Several months later, he found himself helping to train and lead Kenya’s first-ever ice hockey team.
“Years ago, a few of the Kenyans really wanted to take it up…play a lot more seriously, attract more people and get into real hockey games. So we took it up with a few other Americans, Canadians, Slovaks, Swedes and others. We started helping out a bit, but soon it didn't take long for the Kenyans to take it all over themselves...”
The Ice Lions have never had another team to play. But in 2018, the Canadian restaurant company Tim Hortons flew 12 of the team members to Toronto to play their first real game. It was a friendly competition against a team of firefighters.
Eighteen-year-old Gideon Mutua was part of the team. He started out as a speed and roller skater in 2012. He says ice hockey has changed his life forever.
“My biggest dream is to play in the NHL, whereby you get paid just to play. And one day, I think my dream will be fulfilled,” Mutua said.
Robert Opiyo is one of the first Ice Lions' team members. He says young players like Mutua are the future of Kenyan hockey.
He said, “Most of us we are quite senior, but the future really lies with the youth. This is where most of the time, the energy and effort are being invested in. For us, we are just taking in all of the pain, the hardships, the trials so that they can have it a lot…easier.”
Tim Colby believes there is a future for ice hockey in Kenya.
“This used to be about 10, 12 Kenyans playing. Now we are up to around 30. At least half of them are young. And when I say young, I mean under 15, which is really good for the sport in the future...”
Alibaba from China and Canada’s Tim Hortons have both given financial support and equipment to the Ice Lions. Support for the team has also come from Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
There are plans to bring in teams from Tunisia, Egypt and South Africa for a tournament in July. The teams will play for a new prize, called the Africa Cup.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Rael Ombuor reported this story for VOA News. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
attract – v. to cause someone to choose to do or be involved in something
embassy – n. the building where an ambassador lives and works
rink – n. an often enclosed area that has a special surface of ice, smooth pavement, etc., and that is used for skating
tournament – n. a sports competition or series of contests that involves many players or teams and that usually continues for at least several days