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    Soldiers remember National Hockey League Stanley Cup historic first visit to combat zone

    Soldiers remember National Hockey League Stanley Cup historic first visit t

    Photo By Maj. Vanessa Bowman | Toronto Maple Leafs National Hockey League alumni Kevin Maguire and Lou Franceschetti...... read more read more



    Story by Capt. Vanessa Bowman 

    22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment   

    By Army Capt. Vanessa R. Bowman
    22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

    KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Anaheim Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer hoisted the National Hockey League's Lord Stanley's Cup on Thursday after the Ducks' Game Five victory over the Ottawa Senators. A month earlier, Canadian and U.S. Servicemembers raised that same cup over their heads during its first-ever visit to a combat zone when it arrived at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.

    The Stanley Cup, and a host of former NHL players, visited Afghanistan for three days in early May. The visit had an early start at 3:30 a.m. on May 2 when a T.V. crews floodlights illuminated the group of Canadian and U.S. servicemembers.

    The gathering was greeted by Canada's top general, Canadian Chief of Defense Staff, Gen. Rick Hillier. During the interview, Hillier gave a message of support to the deployed troops and exchanged friendly banter about who would be taking the Cup home (a Canadian team or one based in the U.S.) after this year's playoffs.

    "Even though they are holding the Cup now, [I] told them not to get too comfortable with it," Hillier said.

    Lord Stanley's Cup, the championship trophy of the National Hockey League, is the oldest and most recognized sports trophy in North America. It gained its name from Lord Stanley of Preston who donated the original in 1892.

    The Cup's travels outside of North America include Sweden, Russia, the Ukraine, and after 113 years the United Kingdom, where the original was made. While the Cup has been to many places for a variety of reasons, its trip to KAF was historic because it is the first professional sports trophy to visit a combat zone.

    Unlike the trophies awarded by the other three major professional sports leagues of North America, a new Stanley Cup is not made annually; the Cup winners only keep it until the new champion is crowned. It is the only trophy in professional sports that has the name of the winning players, coaches, management, and club staff engraved on it.

    There are three Stanley Cups: the original bowl purchased by Lord Stanley and two duplicates; one which is awarded to the champions and a substitute that is displayed in the Hockey Hall of Fame's display case when the playoff Cup is travelling. The Cup that came to KAF was the actual playoff Cup, making the visit all that more significant.

    "To see the Stanley Cup was amazing," said Warrant Officer Greg Beach, Task Force Denali, 297th Brigade Support Battalion from Alaska, who was on the KAF U.S. Denali ACES ball hockey team.

    The Cup was not travelling alone as former NHL players were also part of the delegation. The players visiting included two-time Stanley Cup winner Mark Napier; former player and Montreal Canadiens Gen. Man. Rejean Houle and Yvon Lambert, former Ottawa Senators Ron Tugnutt and Rob Murphy, former Toronto Maple Leafs Dave "Tiger" Williams, Mike Pelyk, Dan Daoust, Dave Hutchison, Stew Gavin, Lou Franceshetti, and Kevin Maguire; former St-Louis Blues Tony Currie (Vancouver Canucks) and Canadian Lt. Col. Ed Staniowski (Hartford Whalers), Bob Probert (Detroit and Chicago), Rick Smith (Boston Bruins) and Vancouver Canucks owner Paolo Aquilini.

    "When we heard the NHL players were coming and wanted to play against us it was amazing. We were in awe," said Beach. "It was hard to believe, a dream. These are the players you grew up watching."

    The hockey legends were as eager to meet the troops as the servicemembers were who flocked to have their pictures taken with the legendary trophy and favorite players.

    "We really feel emotional about coming over here and seeing all our young women and men servicemembers," said Hutchison. "What they are doing here for our fight for freedom; we really appreciate it. You don't really get a grasp or a hands-on until you get over here to see what the world is really like over here. I commend you Soldiers for what you are doing," he added.

    The NHL alumni eagerly sought out opportunities to interact with individual troops. When they saw the enthusiasm of the troops they expanded the original plan from one Canadian team ball hockey game to a three game schedule that included the U.S. team and a final 'All Star' joint nation playoff game.

    Experience proved to be far more important than a difference of time zone, climate or age, as the alumni team proved by winning all three ball hockey games played at KAF.

    "We couldn't compete against their talent," said Beach. "They had a good game. We enjoyed it and picked up some pointers from them."

    "Beat them 7-1," said Hutchinson. "Most of the guys are over 50 so we played a technical game. We knew you guys would have quicker legs than us, be able to out stamina us, so we took away the center. NHL goal tenders made the difference," he explained.

    "They are showmen, mingling with the crowds. We went in knowing we were going to get schooled," said Beach. "They were gentlemen and didn't beat us too badly. They have the passing game down. You can't compete with that if you don't practice a lot. We just get out and play the game and have fun at it. It's a good distraction. We look forward to getting out there," he continued

    The excitement of the visit was not limited to the famous trophy and players. A barbeque was hosted and activities were planned that gave the players a chance to experience aspects of military life and the troops a chance to demonstrate their equipment and training.

    There was also a concert by Canadian award-winning musician, professional speaker, and athlete Terry Kelly. Many of the listener's eyes were glistening after the song "A Pittance of Time", which Kelly wrote for and about veterans, peacekeepers, and the heroes who support them at home. Kelly also sang the U.S. and Canadian National Anthems to start the ball hockey games.

    The Stanley Cup presided majestically over the Terry Kelly concert and all three games. Wherever it was there were masses of people eagerly making their way to get their picture taken.

    The trip was primarily a joint effort by Canada's Department of Defense and was supported by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, and Vancouver Canucks, as well as the NHL, which sent the Stanley Cup and one of its official keepers, Mike Bolt. One of Canada's best known sports broadcasters, Brian Williams, was also on hand to announce the player line up during the ball hockey games.



    Date Taken: 06.07.2007
    Date Posted: 06.11.2007 12:11
    Story ID: 10766
    Location: KANDAHAR, AF 

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    Soldiers remember National Hockey League Stanley Cup historic first visit to combat zone