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From accessibility comes opportunity

For Josh Ho-Sang, a program aimed at providing accessibility to minority families had a major impact on his journey to Canada’s Men’s Olympic

Bernadette Larose
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February 18, 2022
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Josh Ho-Sang was born a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. An active child from the start, watching a Leafs game was one of the few ways his parents could find to hold his attention during his early years in Thornhill, Ont.

“The Leafs had a big influence on my life, just because they're such a staple in the city of Toronto,” the Men’s Olympic Team forward says. “My dad watched a fair bit of hockey when I was younger, and I used to just stare at the TV when I was little.”

From spectator to skates is the typical route for Canadian kids coming into the sport. But unlike most kids who have generations of family history and firsthand experience in the sport, Ho-Sang was the first of his family to step onto the ice.

His parents – Wayne and Ericka – both immigrated to Canada when they were young, Wayne’s family from Jamaica and Ericka’s family from Chile.

“My dad's hockey education came from strictly watching,” Ho-Sang says. “And when I started playing hockey, he started focusing on it more, just so he could give me information and knowledge on how to develop my game. The encouragement from my household was awesome.”

That support was the fuel behind his hockey career. Ho-Sang started with Goulding Park Hockey Association and worked his way through the minor hockey system, finishing up his final three seasons of AAA hockey with the renowned Toronto Marlboros program, where he was a teammate of Connor McDavid.

While Greater Toronto Area is one of the most diverse parts of the country, Ho-Sang’s teammates growing up were still predominantly white. And while Ho-Sang notes he was never fixated on diversity as a kid – pulling just as much inspiration from Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby as he did from Jarome Iginla and Georges Laraque – it did make his experience with the Skillz Black Aces that much more impactful.

The Black Aces, an extension of the Skillz Hockey program out of Scarborough, is an elite spring program founded by Wayne Ho-Sang and long-time Ontario hockey coach Cyril Bollers in 2008.

Cyril, whose son C.J. was a teammate of Ho-Sang, had suggested to Wayne they start a hockey team made up of kids of colour – the idea eventually became the Black Aces.

“At that point in time, we weren't thinking about racism, we weren't thinking about a lack of opportunities,” says Bollers, who sits on the board of directors of the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL). “The team brought together kids of all colours, at different levels and at different ages.”

Ho-Sang was joined by the likes of NHLers Darnell Nurse and Jordan Subban, with around 80 per cent of the players being of colour, along with all of the staff behind the bench.

“That was something that inspired me when I was younger,” Ho-Sang says of his time in the program. “I think [Bollers has] done an abundance [of good] for the hockey community and trying to grow diversity. He found a way to make it affordable for us, so we could continue to play throughout the summer, but also be surrounded by kids who look like us.”

Ho-Sang stresses that accessibility to the sport is one of the biggest barriers for diversity in the game, especially for new Canadians.

“The fact that I had two immigrant parents who came here with not a whole lot and turned that into a means to allow me to play hockey while putting food on the table and having a nice warm home is incredible,” he says.

Ericka Navarro-Ho-Sang recalls how being a part of the Black Aces helped them and other families coming up through the sport, explaining, “Almost all of us were immigrants, there was maybe one or two that weren't. There was only the odd parent in the group who had actually even played hockey.

“We were all very instrumental for each other because all of our kids had the same story. You shared equipment, you shared stories, you shared food, you shared recommendations and you were there for each other.”

And that’s exactly what Bollers intended the program to be – a community in which to share information and education about a game that was new to so many families.

Fourteen years later, Ho-Sang carries the inspiration and teachings from the Black Aces as he continues to chase his hockey dream. His talent and speed made him the 28th overall pick of the New York Islanders in 2014, and he played 53 NHL games across three seasons before spending the 2020-21 season in Sweden with Örebro HK and Linköping HC.

His childhood love came full circle last fall when he attended training camp with the Maple Leafs before signing an American Hockey League contract with the Toronto Marlies.

“Toronto gave me an opportunity to reintroduce myself to the hockey world and it's been amazing,” Ho-Sang says. “To go from not having a team to representing your country in the Olympics is a crazy jump, to say the least. I'm super grateful to Hockey Canada for looking my way and taking the time to watch my game.”

And the honour of playing for Team Canada has a whole other meaning for Ho-Sang than most of his teammates: “Being a kid born from two families of immigration, it's amazing to see how my grandparents' decisions have afforded me the opportunity to represent the country that has given me so much.”

Beyond the excitement Bollers expresses for his former player, he’s optimistic about the visibility the Olympics affords.

“I think this gives an opportunity for young BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) players coming up, that there is a possibility that they can play in the Olympics. I think Canada just wants the best players, regardless of who they are.”

For more information:

Dominick Saillant
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
514-895-9706
[email protected]

 

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
[email protected]

 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
Office: 403-777-4567
Mobile: 905-906-5327
[email protected]

 

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