10 Questions columnist Reena Gilani caught up with men’s hockey senior Omar Kanji to discuss his obsession with Moes’ burritos, his secret passion for romantic comedies and his prowess in NHL video games.
1. How did you get started with hockey?
Growing up in Toronto, hockey is the biggest sport around and it was always on television. I’m a big Toronto Maple Leafs fan and when I was a little guy I remember sitting in the family room and watching them play all the time. Because I liked the sport so much, my parents got me lessons to learn how to skate and that eventually led to playing hockey. On youth hockey teams back home, everyone takes turns playing in net throughout the season. When my turn came I kind of fell in love with the position and all of the equipment, especially the masks and the big leg pads. From that point on I knew I wanted to become a goaltender.
Were you ever involved in any other sports?
I played competitive soccer growing up my whole life. I also played tennis and a little bit of golf. But as I got older I decided to take hockey more seriously. I continued to play prep school soccer all the way until I graduated high school, but now, I just play hockey.
So you said you were from Toronto, but where are you actually from?
Believe it or not, I get this question a lot. My parents are actually from Tanzania, in East Africa.
Why don’t the guys on the team believe that?
Based on my appearance they think I’m Indian and won’t believe anything else, but I’m actually, technically speaking, a Canadian African.
Going back to the topic of your parents, is it true that your mom acts in movies?
Yeah, she’s actually a big-time Bollywood actress that’s starred in a couple of big movies. I’m just kidding. She works in downtown Toronto and she’s the mother to me and my little brother. She’s an unbelievable woman and definitely one of my role models in life.
Where did that rumor start?
I’m going to take a stab in the dark here and say that it was a member of my class. I can’t really be certain but apparently my mother resembles an Indian actress and some of the boys love to joke around about it.
2. Can you tell me about the best chicken sandwich of your life?
I guess I should preface this by saying that I can’t eat pork in my religion and it is a sin. So…one day we were at R.P.C.C. after practice for dinner and the boys and I were all starving. We all got our food separately and I got a big plate of what I thought was chicken stir-fry. We got to the table and we started eating it and I was like, ‘wow, this chicken’s unbelievable’. [senior] Erik Axell, [junior] Dustin Mowrey and [senior] Braden Birch were sitting across from me and they just looked at me, and then broke down and started uncontrollably laughing. Like laughing to the point where they couldn’t breathe. I had no clue what was going and started to feel really flustered. They then all got up and started high-fiving each other, going nuts, cheering and pointing at me. All I remember hearing was them saying ‘it’s pork!’ And then I had this sinking feeling in my stomach. Once the rest of the table figured out what was going on, their faces lit up with joy and they joined in on the celebration. It was just a disaster that night, and I wanted to cry.
Do you accidentally eat pork a lot?
3. What does it mean to be ‘yoked’?
So I don’t know where it came from, but we have this term that describes how strong a person is or how jacked they look. The term for that is called ‘yoked’. If a guy on the team is pretty strong, he’s considered yoked. If a guy like [junior] Andy Iles isn’t very strong and you see him without his shirt on, you’ll be like ‘oh my god Andy, you’re not yoked at all, please mix in a push up and throw a shirt on’.
What is the pinch test? I’m guessing that’s a good indicator of how yoked someone is.
You have to pinch under 10 percent body fat on our team and if you don’t meet that you have to do conditioning workouts until you do, and then you can play. It’s set so you give yourself the best opportunity to play well.
Have you ever failed it?
4. Why do you only wear a white v-neck and a ‘cut’? And what is a ‘cut’?
A ‘cut’ is like this North Face vest that I’m wearing right now. So the boys and I like Sons of Anarchy on TV and we have this big silly thing going where we pretend we’re part of a motorcycle club. All of the guys on the show wear their cuts around everywhere and never really take them off. Dustin likes to think of himself as president of the club, [sophomore] Kevin Cole likes to consider himself as Jax, then Braden, Axe and I are all founding members. [Sophomore] Joakim Ryan is currently a prospect and he looks exactly like Gemma Teller on the show. We all go around wearing our cuts around campus and we pretend we’re members of the club and we’ll also choose who gets to join the club. [Sophomore] Maddy Dias freaks out every time we talk about it because he really wants to join but we won’t let him.
Why won’t you let him?
He just hasn’t displayed the proper attributes that a club member displays.
5. I hear that you like to grow out your finger and toenails like an animal would. Can you comment on this?
Yeah, I can comment on it. I like to usethem as self-defense mechanisms.
Do you get into a lot of fights?
[laughs] No, but I guess sometimes I just forget to cut my nails. Look at that [shows hand], they’re all cut but I forgot to cut that one nail. So Axe and Birchie will check up on my nails all the time and they’ll do length checks and make sure that my nails aren’t very long because it really bothers them. Sometimes they do get a little long. It’s because I don’t have my mom or dad around reminding me to cut them like I do at home.
6. What is your favorite drink?
Diet coke. I’m a big diet coke drinker. I probably drink two or three diet cokes a day. I don’t know why, but I just love diet coke.
Hasn’t anyone ever told you it’s unhealthy?
Well I don’t think it’s unhealthy. There are zero calories in there, zero carbs.
It can ruin your teeth.
I mean yeah, but that’s why they have Crest white strips.
And what’s your favorite restaurant?
Moe’s. I love Moe’s.
I am a die-hard burrito guy and I love their burritos there. Dustin got a chicken quesadilla there a couple months ago so I have kind of converted to those these days. Their chipotle ranch sauce there is borderline unbelievable.
And it was actually chicken?
[laughs] I think so. I love the atmosphere in there, too. They have unlimited free chips and salsa that are really good. Erik Axell and I have special drink there where we mix diet coke, cherry coke and a real lemon and it’s unbelievable. They just have a really great vibe there and I just love going there. Kyushu and the Ale House are close seconds, with great food at both those places as well.
Do you do Moe’s Mondays?
I like to go to Moe’s whenever. There’s no specific day, but I go multiple times a week.
7. Do you like any video games?
NHL. A bunch of guys on the team are big gamers but we pretty much just have one game we play at a t
ime. Right now we play a lot of NHL, so we’ll play multiple games every night after practice or on weekends when we’re not playing real hockey. Everyone’s alright but I’m pretty good at it.
How would you say you rank?
I’d probably say that I’m the best on the team.
I heard that Braden Birch is the best.
Braden Birch is not the best. That is a false rumor that is being circulated by himself.
Dustin said that you rank third.
Dustin and Erik both think that they’re really good too, but they’re third and fourth on the team respectively.
Have you competed against anyone not on the hockey team?
We’ll play against some of the lacrosse guys, but they’re not quite at our level. Some of the squash guys like to play against us as well, but they should probably just start playing against the lax guys.
8. What type of movies do you enjoy?
I’m a big crime guy; I love crime movies, especially Blow and The Shawshank Redemption.
What about romantic comedies?
[laughs] Nope, I don’t like romantic comedies, well maybe a little bit… I may watch them once in a while but…
How about The Notebook? I was told that you watched that a lot over the past few months.
I think it’s just a great love story, to be honest. It just gets me every time, warms up my heart.
9. Do you have any difficulty waking up in the morning?
Yeah, I have lots of trouble. In high school my mom used to come in my room and wake me up like three separate times and I would always just say, ‘five minutes please’ and then fall back asleep. She’d have to come back into my room repeatedly and eventually would have to get mad at me so I would get out of bed. When I got to university, I began to sleep in however late I wanted, and it was kind of awesome. I finally figured out halfway through my junior year how to get up. I have to put my cell phone, which I use as my alarm, on the other side of the room by my door. It’s legitimately the only way I can get to class on time, because it forces me to get out of my bed. Otherwise I honestly think I could sleep forever.
Have you ever had any of the other guys try to wake you up?
Erik wakes me up whenever we have a team event or something to get to in the morning. He’ll wake up and bang on my door, yelling ‘Omar, it’s time to get up!’ in a silly voice and he’ll keep yelling in a silly voice at me until I am awake. He’s been an awesome friend to me and definitely takes care of me.
10. What is your craziest experience at Cornell?
I would say that it was probably being a part of Red Hot Hockey at Madison Square Garden. It has been an unbelievable privilege to be a part of those games since I’ve arrived at Cornell. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget looking up in the stands during the national anthem and seeing the building sold out and filled with fans dressed in red everywhere surrounding you, it gives me the shivers just thinking about it. Just being in that building is crazy, and when you see the Cup banners and see the jerseys of Ranger Hall of famers and think about all the history that’s happened in there you kind of begin to understand how fortunate you are to be a part of those games.
Original Author: Reena Gilani