By David Morassutti
In a charity game to support wounded troops the Toronto Maple Leafs Alumni came away with a 9-7 win over the Heroes Hockey Challenge (HHC) Warriors at the Mattamy Athletics Centre on Friday night.
The HHC was held in support of wounded Canadian soldiers, their families and families of fallen soldiers. The event brought out many fans to the former home of the Leafs in what was a great night for hockey fans and the Canadian military.
Former players included Mark Laforest, Ric Natress, Mike Pelyk, Pat Boulette, Kevin Maguire, Mike Johnson, Mark Osbourne, Dave Hutchinson, Dan Daoust and former captains Wendel Clark and Rick Vaive. However it was honorary coach Johnny Bower — who served in World War II — who received the loudest ovation from the crowd.
Before the game fans got a chance to have a meet and greet with the former players who signed autographs and posed for pictures followed by a touching pregame ceremony which included an appearance from the 48th Highlanders of Canada Pipes and Drums. Canadian figure skater Scott Moir and curler Kaitlyn Lawes also took part in the ceremony, which paid homage to soldiers and their continued sacrifice to defend Canada.
The highlight of the night came during the intermission when young members of the Scarborough Ice Raiders team got a chance to play against the old time players. At one point Vaive came in alone on a breakaway but the young goalie for the Ice Raiders made the save.
At another point in the game Leo Desroches—whose favourite player is Patrick Kane—was awarded a penalty shot to which all the alumni slid their sticks in his way in order to stop the boy from getting a shot on net. Desroches said that it was fun to get the chance to play with the Leafs and when asked about them sliding their sticks at him on his penalty shot he thought that, “it was a lot fun because they were trying to make me laugh.”
The game was played in two thirty-minute periods with the Leafs up 4-1 heading into the intermission. But in the second half the soldiers fought back to try and equalize but it was not enough as the Leafs were able to hold on for the victory.
However this event was more than just a hockey game, it was a chance to remind people about the sacrifices these soldiers make for Canada every day.
Moir — whose grandparents served in the military in Egypt — sees this event as a neat way to bring hockey and the military together.
“It is kind of a neat mixture to talk about Canadian heroes with Canadian athletes and these soldiers that work every day to protect our freedom it is a lot of fun,” he said.
Lawes said this type of event is really humbling to be able to meet our national heroes. She points out how “a lot of people relate to Canadian athletes as their heroes but we also see those serving our countries as our heroes and to put that together and show how we can work together to remind them that every day.”
Cpl. Max Boyden, who is a part of the 48th division, said he was blown away with the event.
“I was totally blown away by the amount of support we got and all players coming up to us to tell us how good of a job we are doing,” he said.
His father Bruce Boyden—who also serves in the military—was amazed by the opening ceremony and the event. “It affirms what we believe as a country where institutions would care about the wounded,” he said.
Johnson said the best part of the night was hearing about the soldier’s stories he wanted to remind everyone of them that their contribution is not something that goes unnoticed.
“What we do is fun and games but what they do is real life and far more important and worthy of praise and admiration because they do not get enough of it,” he said.