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A very special overseas visit

by Karl Wiebe / Calgary Flames

In May 2010, Taliban forces launched a series of missiles against coalition forces stationed at the Kandahar Air Field. Although there were minimal coalition casualties, the attack showed the military forces stationed in the region that the Taliban were still capable of a coordinated attack.

Less than a year later, Flames alumni Lanny McDonald, Perry Berezan and Jamie Macoun ventured to Afghanistan to meet up with the troops for some hockey and entertainment. The NHLers visited the troops at Kandahar Air Field, home to the International Security Assistance Force—troops from the United States, Canada, and a host of other countries such as Belgium and the United Kingdom.

ALUMNI IN AFGHANISTAN
Lanny McDonald

“It wasn’t quite as dramatic as our previous trips, because we were used to the C-130 Hercules,” says Perry Berezan, who played eight seasons in the NHL and recently came back from his third trip to Afghanistan. “We traveled from Canada to Europe, and then the second leg took us right to the military base. It really gave us some time to bond with the men and women aboard this military transport aircraft over two eight-hour legs on this trip. It’s a fun time, and a great atmosphere.”

“There are big changes happening in the region,” says Flames icon Lanny McDonald. “In 2002, there were 600,000 kids in school. None of those were girls. Now, today, there are six million kids in school, and 2.2 million of those are young ladies. Canada not only helped build a huge dam, but we are helping protect it so that the Taliban doesn’t blow it up. And that is where the water is coming from—that dam does a fantastic job of irrigating the crops. It’s pretty cool.”

The troops stationed at Kandahar have a tough job to do, and the NHLers arrived to help boost morale and entertain the troops. Of course, that meant a serious recreational street hockey tournament

“We knew that we would be playing their best team,” Berezan confided to Rob Kerr during the Hot Stove Lounge on the Fan 960. “These guys play together and practice together—you have to try out for this team! We played five games in four days. They know their ball hockey over there pretty well,” laughs Berezan.

“Obviously, they are in fantastic shape. The troops are younger than we are by a long shot—I think the average age on our NHL team was about 50.”

When they weren’t playing, the NHLers hung out at the Tim Hortons, buying coffees for the troops and giving away Team Canada and Flames hats and jerseys, as well as signing autographs.

Two-time Stanley Cup champion Jamie Macoun returned for his second trip with Lanny and Perry, and not only got a chance to entertain the troops, but ventured out in a Chinook military helicopter to see the region first-hand.

“I was allowed to go out to the smaller forward bases, and that gave us a real sense of what is going on. The thing I really noticed is that you are seeing guys on the road—we are seeing local people in motorcycles and trucks,” said Macoun.

Macoun notes that the region is slowly but steadily getting safer and more secure.

“There were also a lot more people out in little congregations, which wasn’t really happening before.”

“It’s portrayed in the media that we don’t have big guns, but we do,” Lanny says. “However, we are also very good at what we do overseas. We are the best at having a ‘team concept’ philosophy. Every other country looks at what the Canadian teams have. We are doing a great job of building relationships with the local people and working with the other countries’ troops—Australia and the U.S. for example. We are so proud of the job they are doing.”

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