Medina Ball Hockey League Breaks for Prayer in East Toronto

The Milliken Mills Community Centre in Markham, Ontario is home to an active mostly-Muslim ball hockey league. The Madina league has eight teams, each with about 16 to 18 players. They meet every Friday night in Markham, battling towards the Madina Cup in mid-August. “The best time to play ball hockey is the nighttime, around the sunset or after the sunset,” because there are fewer prayers, said Habib, 33, as the players, bowing on a white mat in the corner of the rink, observe the fourth prayer of the day. Players shout encouragement, but there is little to no swearing. Swearing in tournament play will result in a penalty and could mean a suspension, said Habib. “We are trying to teach the religion as much as possible, and that is hard to do if you are allowing bodychecks or fighting.”

There are more than 400 Muslims playing organized ball hockey across Greater Toronto, and interest in the connection between the community and the sport is at a high. Last month, the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted their first Muslim player, Nazem Kadri.

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Sam Kadri Becomes Second Muslim to Play in the National Hockey League

Eighteen year-old centre Sam Kadri will be the second Muslim to play in the NHL when he suits up for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who selected him with the seventh pick in the 2009 draft. Canada’s increasing diversity hasn’t been quickly reflected in the nation’s favourite sport. Born and raised in Montreal, Ramzi Abid was the first Muslim to play in the NHL after being selected in the second round by the Phoenix Coyotes 11 years ago. He played 68 games for the Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, Atlanta Thrashers and Nashville Predators. But his brief foray into the NHL received little attention. Kadri has received far more attention in Toronto.

“If this has a ripple effect on the young players in the Muslim community to take up hockey, then that’s a wonderful side effect,” Leafs GM Brian Burke said. “If that increases our player pool in a part of society we’re not touching right now, that’s great.”