NAIROBI - The first and only ice hockey team in Kenya continues to defy the odds by playing and practicing the sport in one of the few ice rinks found across Eastern and Central Africa. This pioneer team is now inspiring a new generation of ice hockey players who hope to expand the sport in Kenya.
Training sessions are held at least three times a week at this ice rink in Nairobi. It is here at Kenya’s solar-powered Panari Sky Center that the Kenya Ice Lions, the first ice hockey team in Kenya, was born.
Tim Colby moved to Nairobi from Ottawa in 2010 to work for the Canadian Embassy. Several months later, he would help train and coach Kenya’s first ice hockey team.
“A few years ago, a few Kenyans wanted to take it up. Step it up a notch, play a lot more seriously and get into real hockey games,” Colby said. “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 time for the Kenyans to take off by themselves.”
The Ice Lions have never had another team to play. In 2018, the Canadian restaurant chain Tim Horton's flew 12 of them to Toronto to play their first real game, a friendly against a team of firefighters.
WATCH: Kenya's Ice Lions
Eighteen-year-old Gideon Mutua was part of the team.
Mutua, who started out as a speed and roller skater in 2012, says ice hockey 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
Youthful players like Mutua are where the future of Kenyan hockey lies, says Robert Opiyo, one of the Ice Lions pioneer team members.
“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 more easier,” Opiyo said.
Tim Colby believes there is a future for ice hockey in Kenya, even though the country sits on the equator.
“What’s really important for the sport here is that we have youth playing, young girls, young boys, so more and more we are getting. This used to be about 10, 12 Kenyans playing. Now we are about 30, at least half of them are young. When I say young, I mean under 15, which is really good for the sport in the future,” Colby
Ali Baba from China and Tim Horton's have given sponsorship and equipment to the team. Support for the team has also come from Finland, Sweden and Czechoslovakia.
There are plans to bring in teams from Tunisia, Egypt and South Africa in July for a tournament. The teams will play for a new trophy — the Africa Cup.