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Kenyans take on ice hockey despite limited ice in Sub-Saharan Africa

Posted by Walter Gido on

Kenyans take on ice hockey despite limited ice in Sub-Saharan Africa

Benjamin Mburu and Mike Carlos Otione are getting ready for sports practice. But what could they be playing, all the way up here on a rooftop in Nairobi? The answer is ice hockey.It's a sport that is mostly associated with colder regions, where temperatures fall below freezing.

But here in sub-Saharan Africa, conditions are very different. Kenya only has one ice rink, at Panari Sky Center, a high end hotel. So instead of a sharp pair of ice skates and a frozen lakebed, these athletes use roller blades and the smooth flat expanse of the building rooftop.

"I love ice hockey but before I started I was doing roller hockey. But I went to Panari (referring to Panari Sky Centre), I saw the game was interesting. I wanted to play the game but the problem is that there is no winter here and we have only one ice rink. But you know overseas, finding ice is easy. You can find frozen places where people train. If it were like that here it would have been the best. But I have a dream that before I die I must play in the NHL (National Hockey League) and become like Sidney Crosby (a Canadian professional ice hockey player)," says Otieno.

Both men play for the Kenya Ice Lions, the national team. Benjamin Mburu is captain. His love for ice hockey began as a child. "Ever since I was a kid I was bewildered and amazed when I saw in movies guys playing a sport very fast and bumping into each other. And when I grew up and I realised there is ice hockey in Kenya, I decided to take it up and play it," he says.

"Some of the challenges we face is that ice time is very expensive and we do not have any other rink apart from Panari which is just one rink in the whole of the country. That means we have very limited ice time to practice on ice. So sometimes we resolve to off-ice training. For example I use my apartment rooftop with a few of my friends and we learn through channels like there is YouTube there are tutorials online."

The Kenya Ice Lions meet up once a week to practise on the ice at that one precious rink in Panari Sky Center. This is their one chance to put to the test all the skills they've been perfecting outside, on rooftops and other off-ice spaces.The team was formed in 2015 and has been growing slowly. There are now 30 men on the squad.The players have hopes of representing Kenya. The plan is the try to join the International Ice Hockey Federation, which they think will bring more attention and support to their team.

Supporting them to achieve this goal is Tom Colby, a volunteer coach and Canadian expat.

"We will be approaching the International Ice Hockey Federation for full membership soon, and we really feel we deserve that kind of membership and that level of support. And we know they are committed to us, they have reached out to us a few times. And with that International Ice Hockey Federation support, it opens up doors globally," he says.

"It is a great opportunity for the players, and they really deserve it because these guys commit, day in day out. On ice training, they are training the kids now, they are doing the off-ice work, all the organization, the budgets, the work plans, the equipment maintenance, all of that, it's a lot of work ice hockey. And they are a very dedicated group, the Kenya Ice Lions, so they really deserve this. They have shown what it takes to develop an ice hockey team and they have done it right here on the equator. So, International Ice Hockey Federation, here we come."

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