Iafrate still flies in face of beige

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:43 AM ET

Al Iafrate is reading a blurb on the back of one of his old hockey cards.

Having just been handed the 17-year-old souvenir by a fan, the former Maple Leafs defenceman is amused at the description of his one-time blistering shot which, according to the card, "has rendered many netminders helpless."

"How cool is that?" the enigmatic Iafrate said yesterday. "It makes me sound like some kind of superhero."

Let's be honest here. Most superheroes do not ride Harleys. They don't turn their bodies into a canvas of tattoos. And they don't have wacky nicknames like "Planet Iafrate."

Then again, not many people -- superhero or average Joe -- are like Al Iafrate. And, in a way, that is too bad.

With the retirements of Brett Hull and Jeremy Roenick the past couple of years, the NHL -- an outfit in dire need of flair -- has lost two of its most flamboyant characters. Maybe they were politically incorrect at times, but neither the Golden Brett nor J.R. were afraid to put their foot in their mouth while speaking their minds. They brought colour to a sport sorely lacking it.

As one observer recently pointed out: "If today's average NHLer were a colour, he would be beige."

Walk into most NHL dressing rooms after a game these days, and what you often find is a group of millionaire athletes who would rather bite their tongues than offer a juicy sound byte that might ruffle feathers.

That wasn't Iafrate's style, as evidenced by his once famous statement, claiming empty-net goals were for losers.

More than a decade after he uttered those controversial words, people still remember them. And him.

Now 41, nine years after hanging up the blades, the eccentric Iafrate still can draw crowds such as the one seeking his signature at the opening of the giant Pro Hockey Life store in Vaughan yesterday.

At one point, a man crouched beside his kid and said: "Son, I'd like you to meet the Human Highlight Reel."

"That's just one of the many nicknames I had," Iafrate said. "Human Highlight Reel. The Planet. Wild Thing. They were all fun."

Back in his playing days, there would be a smile on his face when, during intermissions, he would light cigars with the blow torch used to warp sticks.

That is why, a couple of years back, he veered a motorcycle into the TSN studios during a scheduled appearance on that network.

A native of Livonia, Mich., the father of two spends his days concentrating on sticks, as much as schtick, in his role as a member of the Warrior hockey equipment development team.

Iafrate knows a lot about hockey sticks. Using a wooden one, he registered a shot of 105.2 miles per hour during the Superskills competition at the 1994 NHL all-star game at Madison Square Garden, a record that stood until the Leafs' Chad Kilger eclipsed it last year.

"Yeah, but (Kilger) did it at one of those team skill competition, not in the Big Apple at the big one like me," Iafrate said. "He didn't do it with the lights on.

"Make sure you write that I was just joking about that."

And, as everyone knows, on Planet Iafrate, jokes rule.


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