March 20, 2016 - 7:00 AM
VANCOUVER - Almost immediately after Shergo Kurdi arrived in Canada, he picked up a hockey stick.
The 15-year-old is the cousin of Alan Kurdi, the two-year-old boy who became a symbol of the Syrian refugee crisis when his lifeless body was photographed on a Turkish beach last September.
Just a few months ago, Shergo was working in a clothing factory in Turkey to help support his family after they fled the war in Syria. On Saturday, he met his goalie idol Kirk McLean and watched the St. Louis Blues practice at Rogers Arena.
"My team is Canucks, and I like to play goalie," said Shergo, clad in a Vancouver Canucks jersey and clutching a signed photograph of McLean.
The grinning teenager was one of 13 refugee youth who toured the arena as part of an event arranged by non-profit organization S.U.C.C.E.S.S. and the Vancouver Canucks, with help from a federal government grant, to introduce newly-arrived Syrians to Canadian culture through hockey.
As Shergo sat in the stands with his father Mohammad Kurdi and brothers and sisters, the moment couldn't have been more different from his old life. His Metro Vancouver-based aunt, Tima Kurdi, has said while in Turkey he couldn't go to school and had to work to help his family.
When the photograph of little Alan surfaced, it sparked international outcry and placed pressure on Canada to welcome more Syrians. Alan's father, Abdullah, attempted the treacherous crossing from Turkey to Greece after Mohammad's refugee application was rejected by Canadian authorities.
The government later invited Mohammad to apply again, and the family of seven arrived in Metro Vancouver in late December.
"Since the first day they arrived in Canada, I remember (Shergo) went outside and he picked up the hockey stick," said Tima's son Alan Kerim.
"They started playing hockey and since that day, they loved the sport. So now to get this opportunity and to come see this on the ice and meet Kirk McLean, it was a great experience for them."
Kerim said Shergo had never played before but has been getting "pretty good," and though he isn't on a team he regularly plays street hockey. After all his cousins had been through, Kerim, who was born and raised in Canada, said it was great to see.
"Now they just live their normal lives, playing hockey, going to school. It's nice to see."
Shergo's sisters, 16-year-old Heveen and nine-year-old Ranim, both said their favourite players were Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
"Very nice day today," said Heveen, wearing a toque that read "Canada" and carrying a hand-drawn "Go Canucks Go" sign. "I like to watch hockey."
Mohammad has been working with his sister Tima at their salon Kurdi Hair Design in Port Coquitlam. He is still learning English, but said, with his daughter acting as translator, he is "very happy."
Some 23 refugees, including youth and their parents, took part in the tour, which was also attended by Immigration Minister John McCallum. The kids met Canucks mascot Fin, saw the team's dressing room and were set to watch the game later Saturday.
"We Canadians hold deep value in this game," said Queenie Choo, chief executive officer of S.U.C.C.E.S.S. "It's a way to learn about Canadian culture and Canadian living through a sport."
— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016