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On The Road: MacKinnon Helps Grow The Game

MacKinnon joined Tim Hortons and Sidney Crosby in helping the Kenya Ice Lions play their first-ever game

by Callie Parmele @CallieParmele /

As the Colorado Avalanche coaches and players boarded the team bus to go to Chelsea Piers for their morning skate on Tuesday, much of the conversation revolved around Nathan MacKinnon and Kenyan hockey players.

"I couldn't look on social media yesterday without seeing Nate wearing Kenyan hockey player gear," one player commented. Another noted that they watched a video multiple times of MacKinnon surprising a team from eastern Africa.

Over the summer, Tim Hortons, the popular coffee and donut chain, flew the Kenya Ice Lions from Nairobi to Canada after learning that they had nobody to play a game against. They are the country's only hockey team.

The trip to North America gave them the opportunity to play their first-ever contest against another team, and they were supplied with new gear that included personalized jerseys for the occasion.

The experience is highlighted in a three-minute video on Tim Hortons' YouTube page called "The Away Game."

Watch: Youtube Video

"It was a really cool experience for Sid and I," said MacKinnon. "The pure excitement that they had when I walked in--mostly for Sid.

"It was really cool, some of them were crying. There is a longer version, a three-minute clip that shows more of what we did and it was amazing."

To the surprise of the players, they were also given new teammates for the day in MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Walking into the locker room with Crosby, MacKinnon wasn't sure that the team from Africa would recognize him, but they knew who he and the fellow all-star was.

"They knew who I was actually, they were huge hockey fans so they did," he noted. "I didn't think they would going in but thankfully they did."

The video was published by the coffee company on Monday and had more than 800,000 views on YouTube as of Thursday morning.

"I didn't really know what to expect, but I thought those guys looked great," MacKinnon says in the video. "It's cool to see the genuine excitement that they had, and it got us really fired up."

The support from Tim Hortons has helped the Ice Lions to further share their love for hockey in their home country by making a donation to Kenya's Youth Hockey League to help ensure that the Ice Lions love for the sport can live on for generations to come.  

"It is a dream to not only have the chance to play in Canada, but to play for the first time in full gear alongside two of the greatest players of the game," said Benard Azegere, captain of the Kenya Ice Lions in a Tim Hortons press release. "When we first started playing in Kenya, we didn't even have full equipment, but now not only do we have that, we can say we've played a real game with some all-star teammates."

With the support of MacKinnon, Crosby and Tim Hortons, the Ice Lions passion for the game has spread and now they will always have someone to play against.

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