Needless to say, there are not a lot of arenas in Colombia. So when Maleb Hernandez and her son, Juan Felipe Cardona, moved to Canada six years ago, it was a bit of a shock to see the passion Canadians had when it came to hockey.
But now that Juan Felipe has laced up the skates and taken to the ice himself, Hernandez is just like any other Canadian parent – spending a lot of time at the local rink.
Juan Felipe is one of 16 children, representing 10 countries, taking part in a new program from Hockey P.E.I. and the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada (PEIANC) that introduces new Canadians to the national game.
This year’s roster for the program includes players from Afghanistan, Burma, Colombia, Cuba, India, Korea, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Uganda.
Hernandez said the program helped her son learn a lot about the game and helped him prepare for his first season of organized minor hockey; Juan Felipe is in his second year of Novice hockey this season.
“We really liked hockey and seeing it the first time we really enjoyed it,” she said. “And it’s good because we’re getting into the Canadian culture because this is the main sport in Canada.”
The PEIANC hockey program was created last year when the group approached Hockey P.E.I. for their assistance in starting up a program. Once Hockey Canada contributed money, the program was off and running.
Hockey P.E.I. books the ice-time and also gave the PEIANC 16 sets of gear.
“It’s been an unbelievable program,” said Brad Murray who works with the Immigrant Student Services program with PEIANC. “The coaches have been doing a great job teaching each and every kid involved in the program. We’ve seen unbelievable improvement in all of them.”
Since its the creation, the program has seen two players register for minor hockey and continue with the program, including Cardona.
“We’ve been happy with the way the program’s been running and we’re hoping to continue for years to come,” said Murray, who noted that many of the participants had never seen ice or been in an arena before joining.
“First time out, we just spent time touching the ice and figuring that part out but it’s an unbelievable difference between now and the day they started last year.”
Hernandez says her son, like all young Canadians, has discovered the joy of scoring goals, but for her the biggest joy comes from learning more about Canadian culture and the national sport.
“We all come from a different culture and we have to be involved in the culture that we’re in,” she said. “This is our home now, so we have to get involved in every different aspect about the Canadian culture so this is a good way to get involved with it.”
Coming from a soccer-crazed country like Colombia, where residents anticipate the World Cup the same way Canadians anticipate the World Juniors and Olympics, Hernandez sees similarities between the two sports.
“Soccer is a hard sport but so is hockey,” she said. “You have to learn how to breathe and you have to have strong legs.”
Two years into the program, Murray has dreams of it becoming bigger and better, attracting immigrants from every corner of the globe, who want one thing: to know what it is to be Canadian.
And is anything more Canadian than hockey?
“Seven or eight call me on a weekly basis wondering when the next ice time will be,” he said. “All of them are excited to be here. Every time I call them to tell them, they’re on time, ready to get the equipment on. It’s something that makes them feel Canadian too.”