It's Saturday in Greece. Jarome Iginla had been up for hours, having crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a flight to Athens when he met up with TSN broadcaster Gord Miller and two members of Canada's Olympic gold medal-winning women's hockey team.
Miller and the female players, Jayna Hefford a three-time gold medallist and Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored both goals in Canada's 2-0 win in the 2010 gold medal game against the US in Vancouver, had planned a trip to the original Olympic Stadium in Athens to take some photos.
Iginla, who should have been exhausted, immediately declared: "Let's go."
So started a surprise, whirlwind trip that would see Iginla, Miller, Hefford and Poulin join Prime Minister Stephen Harper on a trip to Kandahar, Afghanistan to visit Canadian troops stationed there. After the visit to the 100-year-old Olympic Stadium and a dinner with Harper in Athens, the group flew to Qatar, then hopped on a military transport to Kandahar.
"On the way, the soldiers were prepping and getting ready, loading their weapons. The Prime Minister was going outside of the wire. We weren't. But they briefed us on what to do if there was a rocket attack. There had been one the previous day," explained Miller Tuesday after arriving back on Canadian soil.
The entourage arrived at 10:00 a.m. Kandahar time and stepped off the plane into 38 C temperatures. At that point Iginla became the first active National Hockey League player to pay a visit to troops in the field. The first stop was the outdoor ball hockey rink. It was here that Miller realized what he had known for a long time -- the Flames captain is a special human being.
"He stood on that concrete floor for two hours talking and signing autographs and having his picture taken. Then he played ball hockey for 15 minutes in that heat," said Miller.
The group attended various functions including a tour of the Task Force Kandahar Headquarters, a commemorative wreath laying and a social barbecue with troops. At the later, many of the troops who had taken photos earlier in the day had printed them for Iginla to sign.
"I know people in Calgary know what kind of person Jarome is. But he was incredible. It underlies the character of the guy," said Miller. "I can honestly say I have never seen anyone that patient, that kind, with everyone. He asked some great questions. He was unbelievable. He had time for everyone. He just made everyone feel good."
The group spent about seven hours in Afghanistan, flew back to Greece. Switched planes and flew back to Canada, arriving late Monday.
Upon arrival in Athens, Iginla told calgaryflames.com: "It was an honor and a privilege to be asked by the Prime Minister to be part of this trip to come and meet and spend time with our troops. I met lots of guys from Alberta as well. There are lots of hockey fans and it was enjoyable to talk with all of them. Everyone has been watching the playoffs and it was cool to see the hockey rivalries among them.
"It was also very interesting as I toured headquarters and much of the base. It was truly an honor to spend time with our service men and women far from home."