July 21, 2015

Rumun Ndur

There are not a lot of hockey players from Africa. But two NHL players can call Nigeria as their birthplaces. Akim Aliu and Rumun Ndur.

Ndur was just a toddler when his family emigrated to Canada. His father, a pediatrician, and mother, a nurse, fled their native country due to political unrest. They initially tried to settle in Texas, but visa complications saw them move north to Canada. They settled in a small northern Ontario town of Hearst.

Nestled somewhere between Timmins and Thunder Bay, you'd barely see the town if you drove by on blustery, wintery day. Such snowy days are common this far north in Canada. And in a town as small as this it is the rink that is at the community's heart.

The Ndur's knew nothing about winter or hockey, but they made sure their son had the chance to live like all the other kids in their adopted homeland. Bigger than most of the boys he played with and against, Rumun found acceptance on the ice. He grew up like most Ontario boys at the time, dreaming of being like Wendel Clark and playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Ndur was pretty hard to miss on the ice. He was a big body and he liked to use it to his advantage. Make no mistake - his size and physicality it was got him noticed by scouts and got him into 69 games over four NHL seasons.

The hard hitting defenseman played junior hockey with the Guelph Storm. The Buffalo Sabres liked his game enough to draft him in the third round, 69th overall, of the 1994 NHL draft.

Ndur turned pro in 1995, playing with the Sabres' AHL farm team in Rochester. He quickly made a name for himself as one of the top enforcers in the minor league game - a very tough way to make a living.

"Dropping the gloves was a role I had to play to stay at the highest level during my career. It’s not an easy job, but I had fun doing it."

Over the next three seasons Ndur would score just eight goals but accumulate 795 penalty minutes! Perhaps not surprisingly he was a favorite of coach John Tortorella. Together, with the likes of Dixon Ward, Brian Holzinger and Steve Shields, the Rochester Americans won the Calder Cup as AHL champions in 1996.

Ndur's exuberant play earned him a couple of brief call ups to the Sabres, totalling 11 games before he was claimed on waivers by the New York Rangers just before Christmas, 1998. It was a good move for Ndur as he finished the season with the Rangers, playing in 31 games and even scoring his first NHL goal. He was relatively behaved, too, totalling only 46 PIMs.

Nearly a calendar year later Ndur was on the move again. This time it was the Atlanta Thrashers who claimed the defenseman in December, 1999. The move allowed Ndur to play a second consecutive NHL season, even though injuries limited him to just 27 games. He scored another goal, and earned 71 more minutes in the penalty box.

That would be the end of the NHL line for Nigeria's only NHL player. But Ndur would continue playing hockey for another decade, crashing and bashing his way through the American south in the low minor leagues. He also ventured off to Europe, thoroughly enjoying his time in Slovenia and especially in England where he was a fan favorite in both Coventry and Nottingham.

Since retiring as a pro Rumun Ndur has settled in the London, Ontario area and has found a love of coaching the game. He hopes to one day make it back to the NHL, this time behind the bench.

Who knows. Maybe one day he will be the coach of the Nigerian national ice hockey team.

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