Coyotes get taste of SWAT training

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jason LaBarbera is not scared of facing pucks coming at him at more than 100 m.p.h.

But the Phoenix Coyotes goalie admits sweating with fear while in a hostage rescue.

Even if it was just a drill without live ammunition.

"I'll gladly take a Jovo slapshot off the head before a bullet," LaBarbera said while looking over at Coyotes defenceman Ed Jovanovski.

A handful of Coyotes recently took part in some SWAT team training from the Sheriff's office.

Talk about an eye-opener.

"I know they have all kinds of training, but the mental mindset you need for that is out of this world," LaBarbera said.

The Coyotes players hit the range with hand guns, sub-machine guns and machine guns, witnessed a hostage rescue drill and then took part in a rescue of their own -- having to storm the building with flash bangs going off all over the place.

They were allowed to fire rubber bullets at the hostage taker but didn't know whether he would return fire.

Despite wearing flak jackets, the players were antsy.

"They say the training bullets hurt as much as getting shot," said blueliner Adrian Aucoin. "We went in blind, and that was nerve-wracking."

Through their training, the hockey players learned how to co-ordinate being in a cover position before the trailing person headed into the next room -- just like you see in the movies.

However, it's easier said than done when you're in a stressful situation.

"When it was my turn to go, I jumped out and there was a guy pointing a gun at me," recalled Jim Vandermeer. "I turned around to the guy behind me and said, 'You go.' "

"I've gone to shooting ranges but never the whole hostage takedown thing. That was fun," said Aucoin, whose father, Gilles, was an air force engineer. "I don't think it was meant to be a team bonding thing, but when you watch how they do things, they're down to the second with their teamwork.

"We weren't going there for that, but you could draw a positive from it."

Plus, they realized the fitness needed to be on the SWAT team.

"Their gear, I don't know how they move around," LaBarbera said. "One of them was telling us a story of being in the desert 48 hours with all that gear on while they were looking for a suspect. It's amazing.

"It was probably one of the most fun and interesting things I've ever done. I've never shot guns before, so to shoot handguns, semi-automatic and automatic weapons was out of this world.

"The power in those weapons is amazing."

But don't expect them to sign up for the job.

"It's one thing to do it when it's fake, and we were all scared because we didn't know what was inside because we were going blind. To think these guys do it when it's real makes you realize how intense that is," LaBarbera said. "It's all about their timing. We think we have to have timing on a powerplay, but those guys have no choice.

"Their lives are at stake."

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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