In the grand scheme of things, hockey is not all that important. Sure, if you’re a coach or a general manager or a player at a high level and the game is your livelihood, it’s a big deal. But for most of us, it’s a pastime, a diversion.
Of course, some of us really need the diversion.
There’s a hockey rink on a NATO military base near Kandahar, Afghanistan. Canadian troops—that country’s military used to run the base—built the rink in their spare time. It’s an unlikely spot for hockey, what with daytime highs routinely approaching triple digits and, you know, the ongoing conflict that brought forces from a variety of nations to this mountainous land sandwiched between Iran and Pakistan.
Three nights a week, the concrete slab on the dusty base buzzes with activity as three teams—the United States Army, the U.S. Navy, and one comprised of Slovakian forces—play in what amounts to a ball hockey rec league.
My cousin*, a Minnesota season ticket holder and an Army reservist, was dispatched to Afghanistan in August. His Army team, he said, isn’t very good, but they beat the Navy a couple times and upset the Slovaks once.
* I’m not sure if I’m allowed to mention his name—”I can’t tell you our mission here or what I’m doing,” he wrote in an e-mail shortly after he was deployed—so I’ll leave it out of this story.
“[The Slovaks] have one or two guys that did play in some league in Europe for a while,” he wrote.
“You guys need anything?” I wrote back, not sure how (or if) I could help.
He replied that the guys in Kandahar have one issue: Their equipment, primarily the sticks, take a severe beating. The Detroit Red Wings donated some sticks (including a few, reportedly, from coach Mike Babcock’s personal stash) a while back, but the cement rink quickly chews them to nubs. Gloves, repeatedly soaked with perspiration and then baked in the dry, 100-degree heat, don’t last too long, either. Surprisingly, the goaltending equipment—both netminders are completely outfitted—holds up pretty well, as do the shin pads.
My mission, therefore, is figuring out a way to collect a few branches and shipping them off to Kandahar. And I’m looking for your advice.
Finding the sticks and other gear is probably the easy part, but I’m certainly willing to track down leads you readers might have. Getting the stuff overseas—I’ve never sent anything to Canada, let alone Afghanistan—is a different story. Any insight folks out there might have is greatly appreciated. E-mail me here with your comments, and thanks in advance for your assistance.
While I’m certainly appreciative of the efforts of our armed forces at home and abroad, I’m not overly patriotic. When this opportunity presented itself, it seemed like a cool thing for me to do. It’s right in my wheelhouse. Reading the following in an e-mail from my cousin a few weeks ago sealed the deal.
“Who woulda thought that traveling over 5,000 miles from home,” he wrote, “and I would find myself assisting on the game winner versus the Navy?”