SUN Hockey Pool

Hockey Night in Africa

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

Sure, Robyn Regehr and Zdeno Chara had pictures to show the children of Mozambique what hockey was like.

The interpreters did their best, too, explaining a rink was like a soccer field covered in ice and they had sticks, pucks and knife-like blades on their boots to move.

One place, during the NHLer's recent trip to Africa, had props for them to actually demonstrate -- branches that crudely looked like hockey sticks.

So, using a lock for a puck, they demonstrated passing and shooting.

"I don't know if the kids got it," Regehr says with a chuckle, "or if they just thought we were crazy."

Crazy or not, the memories that the Calgary Flames defenceman re-turned with from Africa will last with him forever.

Regehr and Chara, the Boston Bruins defenceman, went to Mozambique for Right To Play, an international humanitarian organization with the motto 'Creating a healthier and safer world for children through the power of sport and play.'

Regehr was introduced to the charity by former teammates Andrew Ference and Steve Montador, who traveled to Tanzania last summer.

The athlete ambassadors spent a week visiting rural towns around Maputo, meeting children and playing games, not only for fun but to teach about such maladies as malaria and HIV/AIDS and to educate, with the goal of creating a more peaceful world.

Yeah, they witnessed impoverished children but also saw unbridled joy and laughter amidst it all.

"And they're so tough," Regehr enthused. "We were playing a game called elephant ball, and you pass around a ball but use your arms with your hands together, between your legs, like an elephant trunk to pass and catch. If the ball went through your legs, you could only use one arm to catch the ball and pass it. If you missed it again, you're out.

"We're playing in fields, the ground is hard and uneven, and the ball bounces all over the place. It's hitting kids in the face, and there's no crying. They just shake it off and keep playing, keep laughing.

"How many kids here in Canada would be crying?"

A journey to poor areas of the world isn't anything new to Regehr. His parents were missionaries who taught farming techniques. He was born in Brazil and spent a few years in Indonesia, where younger brother Richie was born.

"It's really good to see that whole way of life again. It took me back, sleeping on floors and with mosquito netting over you," said Regehr, who has now set foot on six of the world's seven continents. "It did remind me of memories growing up in Indonesia."

Besides, after being recommended by Ference to the organization as a spokesman in Calgary, Regehr had to make a trip. (The only drawback to that plan was his wife Kristina couldn't go. She's expecting their first child in October and couldn't receive immunizations.)

"I didn't want to ask (Ference and Montador) too much about it because I wanted to keep an open mind," he said. "Besides, what better way is there than to see a country they're working in first-hand and see what they're doing. It's something I can take back and talk to people about, relay first-hand experience.

"It's worth it. People should do something like that at one time or another. The experience will last a lifetime and might change their lives, as well."

Besides, they may just have found a new fan base for the NHL.

"One town, we were describing hockey to the kids and starting to talk about it when one kid got up and made an action like a slap shot," he said. "We had a good chuckle out of that. He must have seen something about hockey before.

"One kid out of 2,000."

To donate to Right To Play, check out www.righttoplay.com.


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