NHL United by Hockey Mobile Museum in Edmonton

EDMONTON -- The diversity of hockey in Alberta was on display at the United by Hockey Mobile Museum at the WestJet NHL Fan Park on Saturday.

Nearly 40 people from Apna Hockey and Hockey 4 Youth were on hand on a blustery day to visit the history they are now living as the latest generation of hockey players from diverse backgrounds.  

In a surprise, they were also given tickets to the 2023 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, which will be played at Commonwealth Stadium on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, SN, TBS, MAX).

“When we are able to bring these groups and kids from those groups to a place like the mobile museum, it really gives them a chance to see that their heritage and their descent have been part of our game for a really long time,” said Donny Khan, NHL senior director of hockey development and strategic collaboration.

The museum is a free fan experience that celebrates hockey’s trailblazers, changemakers and business leaders across a variety of demographics. It houses exclusive artifacts from players from a wide array of backgrounds; video components; and a look at the next generation of young stars, NHL officials, broadcasters and women in the sport.

Apna Hockey is a nonprofit organization and hockey school founded to grow the game and develop talent within Canada’s South Asian community.

Hockey 4 Youth, was launched to increase social inclusion for new Canadian and high-priority youths through on-ice and off-ice programs. In eight years, the organization has worked with more than 600 youths from almost 40 countries through programs in Toronto; Hamilton, Ontario; Ottawa; Montreal; and Edmonton, where a program started this year.

Amber, Fuhr check out United by Hockey Mobile Museum

Lali Toor, the co-founder of Apna Hockey, grew up in Edmonton and played high-level hockey as a teenager. But he was the only player of South Asian descent and did not have mentors.

He said that the initiatives of Apna have changed that equation by building an ever-growing hockey community of South Asian players across Canada. He also said that opportunities like the one provided to his group this weekend by the NHL help reinforce what Apna is trying to accomplish.

“I mean, if you see it, you can be it, right?” Toor said. “I think it's very similar to what Willie O’Ree (the first Black NHL player) says, right? If you decide that you can't, then you really can't.

“The best part about the United by Hockey Museum is that kids and families from our community are able to come here and see trailblazers, guys like Robin Bawa, who was our first South Asian NHL player in the League. When our community and the kids see this, if they see people that look like them on the walls of this museum, it inspires them.”

NHL Mobile Museum at Heritage Classic

For Moe Hasham, the founder of Hockey 4 Youth, the hope is to connect newcomers and marginalized youths to each other through hockey in a transformational manner.

“We know the impact that [the Hockey 4 Youth experience] has had on them,” Hasham said. “We know that 80 percent of them feel socially included through our programs. We know that 94 percent of them feel better about their physical, emotional, and mental health. We know that 87 percent of them feel better about their connections to our staff, to the teachers and to their peers. We're using the game to really build connections in a way that we see inside of the mobile museum today.”

Irfan Chaudhry, who was hired as vice president of diversity and inclusion for Hockey Canada in March, said events like the one here Saturday are quite important in furthering his mission to provide pathways to the game to as many people as possible.

“It's inspiring,” he said. “When you see young kids at various demographics, various ages, various levels, kind of just being drawn to the sport itself, as a fan or a player, I think it's that growth you're trying to achieve for sure.

“It's really inspirational to kind of see that next generation really take in, you know, some of these activities. Some of these events hopefully inspire the next generation to see themselves in those leadership and other roles as players, officials and coaches. I think that's the growth for sure.”