Just before 11 a.m. Wednesday, former NHL players Pat LaFontaine and Steve Webb completed an exhausting 550-mile bike ride from Toronto to New York City in just 48 hours, crossing the finish line at the NHL Store Powered by Reebok in Manhattan.
Considering what they just had been through, it's easy to understand why they and their eight-man crew were all smiles. Despite a difficult schedule that included riding up numerous steep inclines and fighting a vicious headwind and rain for about 70 percent of the trip, they still finished about 30 minutes early.
"I tell you, it was an amazing experience," LaFontaine said. "The weather was horrible."
The two former Islanders embarked on the torturous ride to help raise money for their respective charities -- LaFontaine's Companions in Courage, which helps build recreational areas in children’s hospitals, and Webb's W20 Foundation, which helps to provide partial scholarships for young athletes.
The trip began Monday outside the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto with sunshine and clear skies, but it wasn't long before the group confronted hard wind and rain. By the time they crossed a steel bridge near Hamilton, Ont., the wind had become a real safety hazard. At 2 a.m., 15 hours after beginning what had become a harrowing journey, the group finally agreed to take a two-hour break to sleep.
"They had to drag me off the bike," Webb said. "I didn't want to go."
They resumed their trip at 4 a.m. and proceeded through even more wind and rain until the group finally made it into New York City on Wednesday. As a reward for their hard work, they were greeted by a cloudless New York skyline.
"Riding into Manhattan was amazing. It was the best part," LaFontaine said. "To know we were able to cover 550 miles in 48 hours, it was an amazing journey and something I'll never forget."
Enjoying the relaxing confines of the NHL Store, LaFontaine and Webb reflected on the money they had raised for their charities, as well as some funds that will go to Alzheimer's and dementia research. All the while, their crew still was marveling at what they had just been through.
"I ride a fair bit. What these guys did, it's just not what people consider doing," said Greg McFadden, one of the volunteers who assisted Webb and LaFontaine along the way. "I don't think people can relate if you're not out there watching these guys. Just hour after hour. It's why they got to where they got in life."
McFadden and the rest of the group, which included Ironman Canada director Graham Fraser, didn't hesitate to share that sentiment with LaFontaine and Webb.
"That first day, to ride almost 230 miles in wet weather, the guys were saying, 'You guys are nuts,'" LaFontaine said. "I said, 'We're hockey players.'"
That's a really tough thing to play through; when you finally are thrown out there, the game is fast, intense, every single play matters, you've got to find a way to play through that and make smart plays. So it's a huge testament to [Vermette] and some other individuals in our locker room that are putting their own ego, their own wants and needs aside, and are ready for those opportunities when they do come.
— Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews on teammate Antoine Vermette, who returned from being a healthy scratch in Game 3 to score the double-overtime winner in Game 4