February 3, 2008

It really was hockey night in Canada last night as fans and players showed their admiration for our troops


They told Cpl. Denver Williams he would not walk again.

He had one word for the well-meaning medical staffers on the battlefield of Afghanistan on that September 2006 afternoon.

"Watch and learn," the 31-year-old army engineer said loud enough for anyone to hear.

He had so many broken bones; he has no idea how many. The suicide bomber meant business.

But he was alive while four of his closest friends were not.

"I wanted to live," he said.

And he wanted to walk out of the hospital.

Fast forward to Feb. 2, 2008 and there he was amongst more than 1,000 Canadian troops at the Canadian Forces night at the ACC last night.

And he was walking.

"Of course," he said with a giant smile. "I said I would."

That is for all of those who were not in attendance last night.

"I think of all of them every day," Denver said. "Every day."


He realizes he could have been one.

Many Maple Leafs season-ticket holders offered up their tickets so the soldiers could go to last night's game -- which made for a special vibe and energy down there.

"I am just so proud of them all," Don Cherry said as he mingled with them.

Sun Publisher Kin-Man Lee echoed the same sentiment. "It's an honour to host them," he said. "They are so brave."

Denver is just one of hundreds of great stories of sacrifice, courage and comebacks. He came to Canada from Jamaica at 15 and by the time he was 18 he had enlisted.

"I love this country and I would go back to Afghanistan in a second if they needed my help," he said.

You could tell the fans loved having the troops there, too. And the players. It was a loud standing ovation as Chief of Defence Gen. Rick Hillier helped other troops drop the puck.

"I think it's direct, absolute, visceral support for our troops," Hillier said. "It is appreciated immensely and is one of the things that make us a great country."

"There is a certain pride in being in the military," Warrant Officer Joanne Paquette said. "And this treatment here tonight means a lot to us."

Paquette, Ptes. Kassie Graham and Deirdre Squires and Master Cpl. Celine Picotin were among the many who got a chance to chat with Cherry and thank him for all he has done for the troops.

A lot of Maple Leaf alumni stepped up for the big night and spent a lot of time with the troops -- including former captains Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour, who were popular.

"It was a thrill to meet Dougie," said Master Cpl. Rob Wenjel of CFB Trenton. "Everywhere I go, people say I look like him."

"Oh, he's the guy who is getting me into all the trouble," teased Dougie, who thanked him for his service.

It was quite a special night at the Hangar last night with everybody singing the national anthem along with soldier Scott Newlands.

It was a Canadian night.

It is a country worth fighting for, said Denver Williams.

"It is a wonderful country," he said.