They come from locales where rinks, let alone a simple game of shinny, are about as foreign as you can get.
But a partnership between the Coquitlam Express Junior A Hockey Club and the immigrant settlement group SUCCESS is looking to bridge that cultural gap through a program called Hockey 101, a simple, how-to class that covers the basics around Canada's national winter sport.
Conceived in 2011, the program is offered a handful of times per year, and features a PowerPoint presentation that mixes simple English terminology with the most basic rules governing the sport: the number of players permitted on the ice, what the blue and red lines represent and the type of equipment used.
The goals are simple: to integrate new Canadians from places like Korea, China and Iran into the community while giving them an opportunity to practise their language skills around a common talking point.
"No matter where you live in Canada, people will talk about hockey," said Alice Poon, a settlement officer with SUCCESS. "I want them to know what hockey is because being a Canadian, which they will soon become, they should know what Canadians are proud of."
The classes are administered by certified ESL teachers, while Marion Shenher, the Express' business operations manager, leads students through the ins and outs of the game.
"It's the nuts and bolts of hockey," Shenher said. "We talk about what you will see when you walk into a hockey game: what the lines mean, where the players sit, how many players are on the ice at a given time and the equipment that is used."
According to Shenher, the program came about as an attempt to market the Express to the myriad of Asian and Middle Eastern cultures found in the Tri-Cities. But once the program got its legs, the cultural and social aspects were brought to the forefront.
"You use it as a tool not only for learning English and communication skills, but you also learn teambuilding skills and aspects of Canadian culture," Shenher said. "Hopefully we give them something about Canadiana to take away with them."
Though Koreans, Chinese and Iranians are in the majority at classes, Eastern Europe, Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait are also represented.
Where those people are at in learning the language often dictates their level of involvement in the courses - the more advanced ESL students tend to ask the most questions and engage more, while the newer immigrants usually just take things in.
According to both Poon and Shenher, the questions are as varied as the backgrounds of the students themselves. Sometimes the answers are straightforward, like explaining why an offside call is whistled down. But there is also curiosity around the culture of the game and, more specifically, the level of violence considered commonplace, particularly in pro leagues.
"It is a bit of a shock to them. But we explain to them that it's always been part of the game here, but it is less of a part of the game than it used to be," Shenher said.
"The most interesting question I get is, 'Why are they fighting and why is nobody stopping them?'" Poon added. "Sometimes it is difficult to answer that for them."
As part of the program, the two groups are holding an event called "Success with the Express" tonight (Friday, Oct. 5). Discounted tickets will be offered through the SUCCESS office on Pinetree Way for the 7 p.m. game at the Poirier Sport & Leisure Complex, and the goal is to attract a new fan base while breaking down a cultural divide.
"We want to promote [hockey] as a culture," Poon said. "This is a workplace-and a school-place culture. If your co-worker asks you about last night's game, if you don't know any hockey, the conversation will stop. The same can be said about school. It's nice to be able to socialize around these things."