It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of playing hockey was almost unfathomable for Fatema Alashmouti.
That’s because Fatema was born in Syria and came to Canada as a refugee with her family in 2016 after being forced to flee due to the outbreak of civil war.
“I was really young, so I don’t remember much from that time,” she says.
Fast-forward a few years and the 12-year-old defenceman is the captain of her house league team in Brantford, Ont.
“I am very happy,” she says.
Fatema’s pathway into league hockey began just a few years ago.
“They were having swimming classes at [the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre] and we would go after the class sometimes and watch the hockey games. I found the sport really interesting,” explains Fatema’s mother, Muna Ghayth. “I had seen it on TV of course and on the internet back home in Syria but never had watched it in person and it really interested me.”
That interest led Muna to enroll Fatema and her two younger sisters in the NHL/NHLAPA First Shift program.
“At the beginning, I didn’t know if they were going to like it or not,” Muna says. “But, I saw that from the beginning Fatema was really interested in it.”
Following the completion of the First Shift program, all three girls were enrolled in the Transition Program — often referred to as Second Shift — offered by their local hockey association. Second Shift builds on the skills participants learned during the First Shift program and prepares them for potential entry into minor hockey.
“By the end of the Second Shift, my middle and youngest daughter they don't want to do it anymore, but Fatema liked it,” recalls Muna.
In fact, Fatema liked it so much that she was enrolled in house league hockey for the 2022-23 season, joining the Brantford U15 Ice Cats of the Greater Hamilton Girls Hockey League.
"I knew that I really wanted to play hockey but was not sure if I would join a team because my skills weren't that strong,” says Fatema.
Playing hockey has taught her leadership and other valuable life skills.
“It has helped me communicate with people a lot better,” says Fatema. “I am better able to listen to their side.”
Muna says she has noticed the positive impact hockey has had on her daughter.
“She’s a really good team player and she learned how to be a part of the team,” says Muna. “She has used her leadership skills to encourage her teammates. When they lose, she is always giving the team motivation.”
Those leadership skills haven’t gone unnoticed by her coaches and teammates, who named her captain.
“It means a lot,” says Fatema.
To help make Fatema’s hockey pursuit a reality, Muna turned to the Hockey Canada Foundation Assist Fund, a program that provides $500 subsidies to help parents cover registration fees.
"I really appreciate the support from [Hockey Canada Foundation]. It really helped us to help others because as I say, I'm from Syria, and I still have family there," says Muna. "It is a difficult financial situation for us here because I need to help some people back home in Syria. So, the support has helped us not be under so much pressure, which is really great."
Muna says she is extremely proud of Fatema’s success and has no qualms about her involvement in hockey.
“I really want my kids to be a productive part of the community … and sometimes people would say ‘Oh, hockey for Canadians’ and I would say ‘Oh, we are Canadian and hockey for everyone.’ I didn’t see too many of my friends here encouraging their kids to play hockey, but I tried my best to encourage my kids,” she says. “I feel really good and proud that Fatema is doing something she really enjoys.”