The hum from refrigeration system at the east end of Clare Drake Arena was almost deafening Saturday afternoon seconds after public address announcer Garry Meyer asked for two minutes of silence.
Paul Franklin sat in his wheelchair at centre ice. His head was down. A million thoughts must have scampered through his head.
It was January, 2006. Paul was a Canadian medic in Afghanistan when he survived a roadside bomb, but both legs were amputated.
Sitting at centre ice Saturday he could have thought about how his life has changed. Paul also had memories of friends — damn good friends who shared so much — who were among the 158 soldiers who didn’t return to Canada alive.
So many thoughts. So many unanswered questions.
When the silence ended, Paul had friends wherever he support. On his left were his brothers: Edmonton-based soldiers in one players’ box, ready to hit the ice as a team the as the Warriors.
On his right, several of the Edmonton Oiler greats of yesteryear — Dave Lumley, Kelly Buchberger, Jason Strudwick, Chris Joseph and Fernando Pisani, and coaches Al Hamilton and Ted Green: heroes and champions in their own right.
If Paul looked up, he saw the crowd of 300 in the stands who were there because they wanted to express their gratitude to him, and thousands more like him.
Then — after one official had to return to the referee’s room because, they forgot the, um, game puck — the fun began.
Welcome to the 2014 Heroes Hockey Challenge.
Every year a city surrounding a Canadian Forces Base hosts the Heroes Hockey Challenge. When Edmonton was chosen, retired radio executive and Edmonton Sun columnist Marty Forbes put his hand up and said “Let me help.”
Mary said funds are raised for the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry and a local military-based entity: this year it was the Military Family Resource Centre in Edmonton.
It all started Friday at River Cree Resort with a gala dinner with 500 in attendance and former governor general Adrienne Clarkson delivering the keynote address. J’Lyne Nye from the 630 CHED Afternoon News — who has a special place in her heart for the military — was the evening’s MC.
The fun was Saturday. Recently retired Oiler Ryan Smyth played his first alumni game and opened the scoring in a 9-5 win over the Warriors.
Some of the best hockey came between the two 30-minute periods. That’s when the Oilers alumni played minor hockey players ranging in age six to nine.
It was priceless to see; the Oilers alumni even scored on themselves to help the kids to victory.
Funny how a friendly rivalry can often make us remember the real important things.
On a warm sunny Saturday afternoon two of Canada’s passions — hockey and military — came together to celebrate one another.
We play the game because of the freedom we enjoy as Canadians.
We can never forget those who fought for that freedom decades ago — and those who preserve it today.