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Welcome to Canada’s game

A pair of Peewee teams in Montreal gave a group of Syrian children their first taste of hockey

Jonathan Tremblay
March 2, 2017

Is there a better way to introduce new Canadians to Canadian culture than through hockey?

That was the question behind a mid-February event that saw 25 Syrian children take to the ice – most of them for the first time – outdoors at Hayward Park in LaSalle, Que., a Montreal suburb, with the help of two local Peewee A teams, the Jaguars and Lions.

Jaguars assistant coach Mike Bertoldi, along with team manager Angelo Falbo and AHM LaSalle president Philippe Piette, put the event together after Bertoldi got the idea at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.

“It all started at the World Juniors,” Piette said. “Michael was at a game at the Bell Centre and he called me after seeing the Chevrolet Good Deeds Cup commercial on the jumbotron.”

The Good Deeds Cup recognizes Peewee teams across the country who make a difference in their community.

“We should do something,” Bertoldi said of the initial call. “But what?”

Piette suggested inviting Syrian refugees to come out and learn to play hockey, with the help of the Jaguars and Lions, and the idea was off and running. Bertoldi got in touch with government organizations in Montreal to help identify the families, and the group went online, and into schools, to provide financial assistance.

“We raised about $3,500 with our online fundraising and initiative that our players organized at school," said Bertoldi. “The City of LaSalle also gave us support to make this day possible.”

For the LaSalle locals, the day was about making the Syrians feel at home.

On the ice, the players more than did their part. They made a guard of honour to welcome the Syrians, and each player paired with a child who became their partner for the day. They helped with lacing their skates, putting on their helmets, and, of course, teaching them how to skate.

“We organized this to make them feel welcomed,” Bertoldi said. “With what happened in Quebec City, our kids were asking questions. We really wanted to show them that we, like the rest of Canada, are opening our doors to them. We also wanted to show our kids that there are no racial differences once we get on the ice.”

“It’s really great to be able to skate with people who have never had the chance to do so before they got here,” said Jayson Brind’Amour, a member of the Jaguars. It’s nice to show them some skills and watch them improve throughout the day.”

Brind’Amour was paired with Sara Alsmaan, who has been in Canada for a year-and-a-half and was one of the few Syrians who had previous experience on the ice. “I loved my day here and I have to thank my partner Jayson for teaching me,” she said. “I would also like to thank all those who participated in organizing this event.”

As big as the smiles were on the faces of the Syrian children, they were just as big on the faces of their parents, who got the chance to watch their kids participate in the most Canadian of winter activities.

“It’s a perfect day,” said Rami Donat, a father of two. “We’re not a big Syrian community here in LaSalle, so it’s good to meet everyone. We found a perfect country here for a fresh start and we have had a warm welcome so far.”

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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