It’s nearing the end of the third period and the white team is one goal ahead. The stakes are high because it’s the championship game.
Suddenly the red team gets a break away and the crowd goes wild. Skating in like a pro, the forward heads straight for the net.
He shoots. He scores. The spectators erupt in joyful yells, bang on the glass and exchange cheers.
What sets this crowd apart from a typical Canadian hockey crowd is, instead of sporting team jerseys and toques, most of the fans are wearing hijabs, taqiyah (male cap) and other traditional religious clothing.
But it doesn’t matter. These are hockey moms and dads and you would never know they did not grow up immersed in hockey culture.
For Constable Tim Broadhagen of the Toronto Police Service’s 54 Division, this cross-cultural exchange is exactly what organizers hoped to achieve when they started The Pro Action Hockey League – a free league for children, aged eight and nine, from the Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park areas.
Most of the players and their families were not born or raised here, but have quickly grown to love Canada’s national obsession, said Broadhagen, who is one of the founders of the league.
“Any backyard rink or any small-town arena would look exactly the same as it did here today,” he said, adding the biggest victories have not been on the ice, but rather in the community.
Many of the families immigrated to Canada and according to Broadhagen, have come from countries where the relationship with police is very poor and often based on fear.
“You could see the apprehension on their faces when they first showed up… Now they invite you into their homes,” Broadhagen said. “So it’s like becoming part of the community; it’s been fantastic.”
Still, Broadhagen said, there have been problems in their new community with gangs, drugs and shootings, so the program is a key component of the the TPS outreach strategy.
“When these kids get five years older they are going to be at that age and we will be more in touch with the community and be able to provide better policing because of it,” he said.
Amira Bemat, 10, was considered over-age and almost never made the team because of her age. Therefore she had get permission to play from the city. She said the experience has been great for her and she has loved learning from the police.
“They are really good,” she said. “They have been very, very nice to us.”
For Broadhagen the results of the program speak for themselves.
“I have been invited to enough dinners that I probably don’t have to go home for the rest of this year,” he said.