Considered old at 14, Mohamed Asiff proves it's not too late to take up hockey
Growing up in northeast Calgary, Mohamed Asiff never really gave hockey a second thought.
That was until he watched the famed Montreal Canadiens on television, and then everything changed. He fell in love immediately with the Habs, and the game, and urged his mother to enrol him in competitive hockey.
Living in the community of Castleridge, Asiff had to play in the Property Sports Association, or PSA. However, the Bantam PSA team didn't have room for a player who had little to no experience on skates, much less playing hockey.
And so, released from his community association, Asiff went looking for a place to play. That's when the Bantam 5 Westwood Warriors answered the call because they needed extra skaters.
"He had skated a little bit but he was pretty much a brand new skater but he was an extremely good athlete," Bruce Ayrton, Asiff's assistant coach, said. "So, to pick it up at this stage is very tough. There are some kids on our team that have skated in organized hockey for eight years.
"For him to come in like this in a hard hitting league is tough, but he has done really well. He has really soft hands and a great attitude."
Asiff's mother is from Tanzania, while his father is of Lebanese descent — not exactly hockey hotbeds. Nothing deterred Asiff from picking up the game and loving every minute of it.
"I was around hockey for a while, like just for fun, but then I wanted to play it competitively," Asiff said.
Not only is the 14-year-old into the sport, but so is his mom who had to drive much further to the Westwood arenas in the northwest.
Ayrton said: "There are a lot of different cultures that are getting involved in hockey and getting his family into it as well is really exciting because his mom is really into the game. It's just neat to expose their culture to the game a little bit.
"He's just like one of the other kids. He just enjoys the game."
Scoring his first goal
Asiff finished the season sixth in scoring for the Warriors with nine goals and four assists. His first goal was one he will never forget.
"It was against Midnapore," Asiff said. "The defenceman lost the puck, I took it away from him and I went top corner blocker side."
Asiff, a talented basketball player as well, said scoring that first goal was a relief.
Later in the year, Asiff faced off against Bantam PSA, the team that cut him earlier in the year. Lo and behold, Asiff got his revenge the best way he knew how — by scoring a goal.
"I think I was playing defence that game. I rushed the puck up, put it through the defenceman's stick and went backhand on the goalie," he said.
Meeting his idol
A big reason for Asiff's path into hockey was because of his love of the Montreal Canadiens and in particular, the Canadiens all-star defenceman P.K Subban.
Subban plays an exciting style of hockey and has a very powerful shot, much like Asiff does. Subban's mother is from Jamaica and his father from the Caribbean. Like Asiff, Subban is a visible minority in the world of hockey.
On a trip to Montreal last year, Asiff had the chance to meet Subban, a moment that will be engrained in his memory for life.
When Asiff recalls the meeting his face lights up like he just scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal. So now, right next to his first-goal puck is an autograph from Subban.
But what is it about hockey that Asiff loves so much?
"That you can work on your skills better," he said. "Like in basketball you can as well, but at one point it just gets boring. But in hockey you want to get better."
A size advantage
Playing with fellow 13 and 14-year-olds, Asiff towers over his teammates looking like a giant.
Given his size, close to six feet tall, you might think he would be a wrecking ball on the ice destroying anyone who gets in his way.
In fact, it's the exact opposite.
"Part of the problem is that he is so much bigger than the other kids that when he does hit back it's often to the head," Ayrton said. "Not that he is aiming for it, it just happens."
"We taught him that unless it's a bigger player then don't go after him, don't hit him. The idea for him is to not go out and obliterate people."
So, Asiff simply goes about his business and other kids who try and hit him just seem to bounce off.
Ayrton's wife, Regan Palsgrove, who acts as the team manager, can't say enough good things about Asiff who has become an integral part of the team.
"My son Jack plays on the same line as Mohamed and he really likes it," Palsgrove said.
It would seem that the sky is the limit for young Asiff.
"He is a really quiet kid, but he can shoot the puck harder than I can," Ayrton said. "If he sticks with hockey he will move quite high up the ranks just because he is a natural athlete and he understands the game."
Asiff now plans to keep playing in the spring as he's, admittedly, "addicted to hockey."
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correct a misspell of Mohamed Asiff's name. We apologize for the error.
- By Derrick Newman