Kenya may dominate the world when it comes to long-distance running, but ice hockey? That’s not exactly a national sport.

So when Canadian coffee and doughnut chain Tim Hortons learned about Kenya’s only hockey team, the Kenya Ice Lions, the brand decided to give 12 of the amateur players an unforgettable trip to the home of hockey.

Upon arriving in Canada, the players discovered several surprises waiting for them, including top-of-the-line gear, custom jerseys and a team to finally play against. But they also had a few unexpected visitors lace up and join their starting line:

Just in case you’re not up to speed on your global hockey stars, Sidney Crosby is captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins and has been considered one of the best players in the world for more than a decade. The Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon, while younger and less of a household name than Crosby, is one of the league’s rising stars and brings a lot of spirit to the game.

Obviously, the Kenyan players don’t often get to play alongside such iconic players. In fact, they barely get to play with anyone.

Twice a week, they gather at the first ice rink in east and central Africa, at the Panari Sky Center Hotel in Kenyan capital Nairobi. There aren’t enough players to create a second team, much less a league, so the Ice Lions have never had an opponent until their trip to Canada on Tim Hortons’ dime.

“It is a dream to not only have the chance to play in Canada, but to play—for the first time—in full gear alongside two of the greatest players of the game,” says Benard Azegere, captain of the Kenya Ice Lions, in a statement about the event. “When we first started playing in Kenya, we didn’t even have full equipment, but now not only do we have that, we can say we’ve played a real game with some All-Star teammates.”

Nitro-Net has reached out to Tim Hortons for information on agencies involved with the effort, and we will update this story if we hear back.

For Tim Hortons, the idea of surprising the Kenyan players was an extension of the brand’s (and its home country’s) deep connection to hockey.

“In Canada, and as a company, hockey is part of our DNA,” says Jorge Zaidan, head of marketing for Tim Hortons Canada. “We are so inspired by the story of the Lions. Despite having no other teams to play against, the players on the Kenya Ice Lions’ passion for the game is unwavering. Their shared passion and love of the game knows no borders.”

To continue building the legacy that the Ice Lions have started, Tim Hortons also made a donation to Kenya’s Youth Hockey League in hopes of helping ensure Kenya’s first ice hockey team isn’t its last.

Original Source