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Leafs boss leading Stanley Cup trip to Afghanistan

by Adam Kimelman / NHL.com
The brave men and women fighting the war in Afghanistan likely won't be able to see who wins the Stanley Cup in June, but that doesn't mean they won't get to see the Cup itself.

A delegation of NHL alums and executives will join the Cup for a trip to military bases in Kandahar from March 24-28.

VIEW PHOTOS FROM LAST YEAR'S TRIP

It's the fourth year for the journey, which again will be led by Tom Anselmi, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"It really started with the chief of the defense staff for the Canadian armed forces," Anselmi told NHL.com. "In the past, they have done a number of different entertainment initiatives and he came up with this idea of a Team Canada mission. He and myself and his people all hooked up and it was a bunch of alumni and we'd hook up and play ball hockey. The League made the Cup available, and it was one of the only countries the Cup hadn't been to."

The former players and soldiers played a few games of ball hockey on a rink in a common area on the base, and all involved left with a lifetime of memories, as well as a desire to bring this experience to others.

"You think you're going to cheer up the troops, and … they're the ones inspiring us," said Anselmi. "Canadians, Americans, they're so well-trained, they so believe in the cause, believe in their mission. They were the ones inspiring us. The job changed, and it's now bring a piece of home to them and bring back their message and spread it at home."

"I think our guys get more than they leave," said former NHL player Mark Napier, the executive director of the NHL Alumni Association, who also will be going on the trip.

Also signing on for this year are Leafs GM Brian Burke, and former players Tiger Williams, Chris Nilan, Lanny McDonald, Doug Jarvis, Ryan VandenBussche and Jamie Macoun. Those NHL alums and other will again play ball hockey games against the troops, mostly Canadian and American.

"Its gotten now to the point where there's more (alums) that want to go than there's places," Anselmi said. "Lots of guys want to do it. It's so inspiring."

Most important to Anselmi is the reaction of the troops.

"To see the Stanley Cup in the middle of war-torn Afghanistan with a bunch of kids drooling over it, it's so cool," Anselmi said.

"Lots of times they don't realize it's the real thing," said Mike Bolt, one of the Hockey Hall of Fame's Keepers of the Cup, "but it's the one Sidney Crosby held in June. They say, I can't really believe it's here. Guys are joking I had to come to Afghanistan to see the Stanley Cup. You can see the joy it brings to everybody."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.
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