Guy Lafleur – The Flower Blooms in the Desert
By Robert J. Galbraith in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Hockey legend Guy Lafleur is not finished with his career, but rather, it is just getting underway, only in a different direction.
After a ball hockey game with members of the Canadian Armed Forces, in Kabul, Afghanistan, and wearing a military uniform under the scorching Afghan sun, Guy Lafleur, the holder of five Stanley Cup rings, thrilled fans with his dedication and admiration for Canadian soldiers in a region of the world where rocket attacks and roadside bombs are an everyday reality.
“The game itself was a lot of fun because they (the troops) were expecting this game for so long and they’ve been talking about it for so long,” said Lafleur. “For me, I wasn’t there to score 5 or 6 goals, because I find it very tough to play on the ground like that with no skates on, and especially that it’s a high altitude here, so it’s different, and I’m out of shape, and that doesn’t help. But it was fun, cause I’m here to try to please the guys and I want to see what’s really going on here. I’m very, very happy, and feel very fortunate to have the occasion to be here, said the 55-year-old hockey legend.
“The guys understand if I didn’t play the whole game, there’s a lot of demand for pictures and autographs you know. The reaction from the troops, it’s very nice.”
Lafleur was in Afghanistan with other members of Team Canada, which include Olympic speed skater and multi-gold medal winner, Catrioana LeMay Doan and comedian Rick Mercer to name but a few.
“It’s good to have Lafleur here as he is such a public figure, and he relates to the public in Canada as they have a sort of tainted view of what goes on over here. so it is good to have such a public figure pass on what really goes on over here, to see what we do and pass it on to the public so they have a better idea of what really happens,” said Cpl Trevor Dewe, of St John’s Newfoundland, and a member of Task Force Kabul Headquarters, with the Royal Canadian Dragoons. “It was a good game, close and really exciting. I’m a huge hockey fan! I started skating when I was five. The Pittsburgh Penguins are my team, my dad is a die-hard Habs fan,” explained Dewe. He is also a die-hard family man. “I would like to say that I miss my family very much and love them dearly – I miss them a lot.”
Game fan Master Corporal Matt Taylor, with Task force Headquarters and originally from Medicine Hat, Alberta, sat on the sidelines watching the game. “It’s a great morale boaster to have Guy and the rest of Team Canada over here, as every day is a Monday here.”
Taylor remembers growing up and watching Lafleur playing on the ice. “To actually see him in person is a real morale boost. You can see the smiles all around. Other Team Canada members like Rick Mercer, have a great appreciation for the job we do over here, and it feels great to be recognized, and I’d like to definitely see more of these types of activities over here,” said the father of two young girls. “Ever since you join the army, you’re shipped off and you lose touch with your friends and it’s nice to say I’m here and things are great, and I’d like to say hello to them. I also have two young girls, Kiara is eight and Jadyn is six-years-old, and I’d love to say to them that I love them very much and miss them dearly.”
Master Corporal Frank Macdonald, 33, a member of the NSE (National Support Element) from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, has two children, both boys, Crewe is 4 and Luke is 2.
“Playing hockey with Guy Lafleur in Afghanistan is something I’ll never forget. I started to watch him play on TV when I was about 8. The Oilers are my team.” Macdonald says that playing sports builds comprehension, team work and it’s fun! “This was an experience of a lifetime, and it’s not everyday you play with a Hall of Famer. My wife Shauna is a Maple leaf fan. On the bench, he was just one of the team. I played with him, then against him, as he switched teams at half-time so the guys could all get a chance to play with him and against him. He’s an awesome player,” he said, but he likes Lafleur’s style of play. “He plays a little dirty, grabbing the stick, but he played the game the way it should be played.”
“We both finished one and two in the eight team league, so it was a rematch, where we lost again, by a score of 7-10,” explained Sgt Robert king, of the NSE. “Toronto is my team. Guy signed my Leafs flag that hangs on my office door. I wasn’t there when it happened.” Jokingly King said, “He desecrated my flag. Guy said, Oh! That was you?” As though The Flower, did not have enough support to share around, he still made his way to visit those who could not watch the game. “Do you know that Guy visited the Emergency Ward to give support to one of our wounded soldiers there,” said King. “I didn’t care who Guy scored on, I just wanted him to score. Whenever I watched the Habs and Toronto play I got very angry when he scored. I was about ten then. I asked my dad, why is he scoring on my team. But it’s just great to have athletes like Doan, Guy and Inglia here to see us. It brings our morale up.”
King was flattered by Lafleur’s response at the end of the game when he signed and handed out Habs caps to all the players. “Right at the end of the game, he said it was his honour to play here with us. I told him, no, it was our honour to play with you. Even though as much as I am a Leafs fan. It was the biggest honour I’ve ever had, and I’ve met a lot of the Leafs, but to play with a legend! Wow! I’ve already e-mailed my 3 kids to tell them I just played hockey with a legend.”
For Cpl. Dean de Ruiter (of the NSE), from Meath, Ontario, on the Ontario-Quebec borders, it was the thrill of a lifetime. The father of three children will never forget this experience. “I never thought I’d have a chance to play with Lafleur, and it’s funny, that I’d get a chance on the other side of the world to do so. I enjoyed watching the Canadiens when I was growing up, but I’m a Senators fan, just because they are closer to my home, but he was definitely my favorite player though, very talented and entertaining to watch play on the ice, very skillful.”
De Ruiter had a chance to speak with Lafleur during the game. “We chit-chatted during the game and he thanked me for our work over here. It was nice to forget where we are and what we are doing. It felt like we were just off at home playing road hockey on the street, and if I can, I’d like to say hello to my wife and kids and extended family, and I’ll see you soon – I guess.”
Private Marc Levigne, NSE, from Charlo N.B. commented that, “his coming here meant a lot to me. To actually play with such a hockey player. He had a chance to play with every single hockey player on both teams. I had a lot of respect for the man, now I have a lot more.” Levigne went on to explain. “We are here to do a job, there’s a lot of work to be done. I think a portion of the people back home know about what is going on here. But back home they only see the bombings. They don’t see the good things that happen, only the bad. Can I say hi to all my friends back home?”
Lafleur is looking forward to his return home after spending close to a week visiting the troops in Kandahar and Kabul. “I going to go back home where I own a restaurant near Montreal,” he said. But at this time, his mind is really on the troops and the job they are doing. “I think the morale of the troops is very good and positive, I didn’t hear any complaint what-so-ever from anybody. Everybody’s very positive and they know what they have to do, they know their responsibilities and they’re very professional. I’m very impressed!”