As first generation Canadians who grew up in households where academics were the first priority, Vinay and Parul Intwala refer to their family as “the Accidental Hockey Family”.
That’s the handle the family uses on their Instagram account where their feed is full of pictures of their 16-year-old daughter Sahanna and 14-year-old son Nishan on the ice, the pond or the street playing hockey.
“We are a family that is simply consumed by hockey now. When I look back, we never expected to be immersed in hockey given our limited exposure to organized hockey as we were growing up,” Intwala says. He adds his children are on the ice four or five times a week and his wife Parul finds herself volunteering her time to support Sahanna and Nishan’s love for the game.
To understand where this family’s obsession with the game came from and to see what lessons it offers to local associations trying to attract newcomers to Canada to the game, Intwala says it’s important to go back to the beginning.
When his family came to Canada, they settled in Hamilton. They lived on a street with many other new Canadian families around the world. Growing up, starting in September through to April, street hockey was played anytime more than two people were available.
“Not all of us could afford to play ice hockey as immigrant families. We didn’t have a lot of money. But everyone at that time had a hockey stick, even it was borrowed. We grew up playing street hockey. I really enjoyed seeing my friends and neighbours come together to play and wanted to share that joy with my own kids and their friends," he says.
When Intwala and his wife had their children, he tried to expose his kids to his favourite sport basketball and other activities.
“We put them in skating lessons because we thought it was the quintessential thing to learn in Canada. They really did not enjoy it. They said things like, ‘what is the point of skating around pylons? Why are we doing this’?”
Intwala had an idea. He bought the kids shin pads to cushion all their falls and about three months into those skating lessons, there was a day he’ll never forget.
He carried his son from the change room to the ice like he always did because Nishan at that point still didn’t have the leg strength to walk on his skates on his own. Then something magical happened.
“I literally dropped him on the ice, and he shot off like a cannon. He did a lap. He was skating. He was falling. He was just having so much fun. He had this smile on his face from ear to ear. I told my wife, we’re now a hockey family. Better buckle up.”
“If I have a random day where I have no school, I just text my friends on the group chat and say ‘anyone want to play hockey?’,” Nishan says, adding his sister is one of the first to join him.
“I fell I love with hockey when my younger brother started to play. I used to go watch his games and couldn’t wait to get on the ice myself,” Sahanna says.
She adds, “I’ve made a lot of friends through hockey. The team I’m on now, we have such a tight bond. We’re always trying to find ways to get together outside of hockey.”
Vinay says there are many benefits to becoming the Accidental Hockey Family.
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“It has connected us to a whole new community. It is so far beyond just sport.”
He looks at the impact the game has had, and will continue to have, on both his kids.
“They have learned so much about how to be part of a team, how to lead a team and how to handle various personalities on a team. They have become more resilient and have learned how to manage the pressure and how to learn from losses. They think about strategy and the big issues in things outside of hockey because of their experience with the game. All of these learnings are going to be something they use for the rest of their lives in so many different ways."
He says the game was therapeutic for the family and the love for it grew stronger these past few years during COVID.
“During the winter months of COVID, that’s all we did. We just played pond hockey. We couldn’t get into the arena, so we went out onto the pond, and it became this communal event where kids in the neighbourhood got together.”
He adds, “some parents came out with spray cans, and painted blue lines, red lines and centre ice dots on the pond. That was Canada to me.”
Vinay says there is one big takeaway for local hockey associations or for newcomers from his family’s story.
He says new Canadian families have more choices than he did as a child for sports and other activities for their children. Some parents perceive that hockey is too costly and are worried about potential injuries.
“To me, it’s not so much about ice hockey, it’s about playing the game and having fun. Give these kids a stick and a ball and see where it evolves from there.”