Junior champs visit Petawawa

JON WILLING, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

PETAWAWA -- When Pat Quinn was 14 and attending a summer militia program here, he might have had aspirations of becoming a decorated army general.

He turned out to be a commander of a different sort, one who leads his troops on an icy battleground, but where national pride is still on the line.

Yesterday, Quinn told more than 1,000 troops at CFB Petawawa about his first trip to the base as an eager Hamilton teenager, lying about his age so he could participate in the militia program that took recruits as young as 16.

"We came here to train for three weeks and it was a great experience for me," Quinn said.

He returned to Petawawa last December, seeking the same guidance from military minds to help bring together Canada's world junior hockey team before going into battle at the 2009 championship in Ottawa. The players, many of whom knew one another as foes in their respective leagues, spent a few days at the base, building a chemistry that led to Team Canada's fifth straight world junior gold.

Quinn, 66, vowed that if he coached his players to victory, he would return to CFB Petawawa with the championship trophy.

He fulfilled that promise yesterday, arriving with captain Thomas Hickey, alternate captain Cody Hodgson and Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson. Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and vice-president Cyril Leeder, who spearheaded the tournament's host organizing committee, also made the trek to Petawawa.

'MOMENTOUS' DAY

"It was a small gesture to be able to make," Quinn said. "You never know if you're going to win, but in my mind if we won, we were coming back."

Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Canada's chief of defence staff, called it a "momentous" day as the troops applauded the hockey champs.

Natynczyk reminded the crowd that soldiers are at war overseas so Canadians can have normal lives back home.

"Normal life in Canada is hockey," Natynczyk said.

Soldiers lauded Quinn and the boys for bringing the trophy to the base. Col. Dean Milner, commander of 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, said the visit was a huge morale boost.

"Men and women are just back from Afghanistan," Milner noted. "This is a fantastic opportunity for them to see these great hockey players."

Quinn, now coach of the Edmonton Oilers, felt just as honoured to bring his gold medal to the troops.

"It's a humbled feeling, really," Quinn said. "One of appreciation for their sacrifice for our country and allowing us the privileges we experience, for the right to play hockey and to play without anything fettering us in any fashion.

"We're really grateful to our men and women."


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