Guest Post: Apna Hockey – Growing the game

Screen Shot 2019-08-02 at 3.51.03 PMGuest post by Lali Toor

My name is Lali Toor and I am the Founder/President of Apna Hockey, the very first South Asian based ice hockey network. With the help of our co-founder and former professional South Asian hockey player Dampy Brar we have focused on establishing working relationships within the South Asian hockey community in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, and Toronto. Connecting current and former prominent South Asian athletes via our social media outlets and website is our focus. Building a brand that is synonymous with elite South Asian hockey talent is our goal.

Apna Hockey’s mandate is to increase participation in hockey within the South Asian community across Canada. Essentially it is an entity that is creating social change in the game of hockey. Apna Hockey ensures South Asian players have access to mentorship and hockey programs in major cities across Canada. We hold yearly camps in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, and in Toronto. After playing hockey at the highest levels in Edmonton (including Bantam AAA, Junior, & College), I decided to start a hockey initiative to help support the next generation of hockey athletes coming up from our community. When I played in Edmonton, it was difficult being the only player of South Asian descent, I wish I had a mentor I could relate to and talk to, but it was only my father (who immigrated to Edmonton in the late 70’s from India) and I. Today, we have worked with Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi, the Edmonton Oilers, the Calgary Flames, the Indian National Women’s Ice Hockey team, and Olympic gold medalist Hayley Wickenheiser, amongst others.

My role as Founder/President of Apna Hockey in the past two years has involved the identification and proliferation of South Asian hockey players across Canada. Specifically, our Instagram account has connected over 3,500 hockey fans, parents, players, and coaches. We have identified approximately 50+ South Asian hockey players (men and women) that play at elite levels including the NHL, AHL, DEL 1, ECHL, NCAA, Usports, WHL, OHL, AJHL, BCHL, MJHL, OJHL, Sweden 2, and BCIHL. There are enough elite Indo-North American players to represent India as the Indian National Men’s team and enter International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) sanctioned tournaments (one of our future projects).

Apna Hockey has worked with the Calgary Flames organization and their WHL team, the Calgary Hitmen. We were asked to help with their South Asian celebration night in November 2018. The event featured traditional dance performances, South Asian cuisine, and a WHL South Asian player on the opposing team. Apna Hockey brought over 100 people from the community to watch the game. In Edmonton, we were asked by the Edmonton Oilers in February 2018 to speak about the rise of hockey in the South Asian community. They submitted an article to the public alongside Edmonton Oiler, Jujhar Khaira’s comments as well. A year later, in February 2019, we assisted the Edmonton Oil Kings with their first annual South Asian celebration night. Screen Shot 2019-08-02 at 3.50.10 PM

In December 2018, Apna Hockey was contacted by Hockey Canada and Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi to set up a skate for South Asian families as an introduction to hockey during the 2019 World Juniors hockey tournament. With the help of our network, I invited prominent South Asian hockey players Tyler Sandhu (UBC Thunderbirds), Shaun Dosanjh (UBC Thunderbirds), Manraj Hayer (UBC Thunderbirds), Priya Sidhu (University of Calgary Dinos), and Arshdeep Bains (Red Deer Rebels) to work with the kids on the ice and to talk to South Asian families about the benefits of playing hockey (over 250 attendees).

Ultimately, we have become an organization that is involved in all South-Asian hockey related initiatives. For example, in November 2017, we were contacted by a local Edmontonian about an initiative that envisioned Hayley Wickenheiser traveling with former Edmonton Oiler Captain, Andrew Ference, to the Himalayas of India to visit the Indian National Women’s Hockey team. The intent of the trip was to bring equipment donated by the NHLPA and to build a relationship with the girls. Hayley invited the national team to her annual women’s hockey tournament in Calgary (Wickfest), but this would require fundraising. In April 2018, Hayley held a Gala in Vancouver, BC to raise money so the Indian National Women’s team could travel to Calgary in November 2018. Apna Hockey attended the Gala, donated and helped fundraise over $80,000 for the team. The planning/logistics of the trip (Vancouver and Calgary) was directly done by a group that included myself and Dampy Brar. Once Wickfest started, we were behind the bench coaching the Indian national team. A couple months after the tournament, while in India, Dampy would make a trip to the Himalayas to meet the girls again and conduct skill development camps. He also worked with local schools in our home province of Punjab, India; conducting inline hockey sessions.

Our community contributions include donating items from our organization to the University of Fraser Valley for the “We Are Hockey” exhibit at the Gur Sikh Canadian National Historic site in Abbotsford, British Columbia. I have served as a keynote speaker at two academic hockey conferences (University of Alberta and Queen’s University). In July 2018, the Hockey Conference was hosted by the University of Alberta. I was invited by Dr. Cheryl MacDonald to talk about my experiences of growing up and playing hockey as a player of Sikh decent. In March 2019, I was invited by Dr. Courtney Szto to attend the very first Roundtable on Racism in Hockey event as a keynote speaker at Queen’s University. Both events represent the progression of minorities in having a space to talk and be heard about their experiences within the sport of hockey.

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From left to right: Lali Toor, Shaun Dosanjh, Hayley Wickenheiser, Tyler Sandhu, Dampy Brar at Wickfest Surrey.

Today, we have finalized our initial board of directors which includes myself, Dampy, Roshan Kalra, Manav Deol, and Rob Knesaurek. Roshan is a JD/MBA from Queen’s University and a Partner at an Edmonton-based law firm. Roshan’s legal counsel is a welcomed addition to Apna Hockey. Manav Deol is a JD/MBA from the University of Alberta and currently serves as Managing Director of the Business of Hockey Institute and works as Hockey Operations Associate for Ritch Winter’s NHL player agency. As Winter’s right hand man, Manav services NHL players and is relied on in all of NHL contract negotiations and arbitrations. He also represents junior and professional hockey players on all aspects of their career. Lastly, Rob Knesaurek brings a wealth of experience in growing the game of hockey. As the Vice President of Industry Growth of the NHL, Rob adds value to Apna Hockey at a corporate level. As Apna Hockey grows, it is necessary to have the right minds steering our organization to ensure its sustainability and its social impact on the South Asian community and the game of hockey.

Check out the upcoming Apna Hockey camps:

  • Calgary – August 8-11
  • Edmonton – August 16-18

Listen to Lali on the Game Changers YEG podcast: HERE.

Follow Apna Hockey on Instagram.

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