TORONTO - That’s more like it, coach.
Turns out Ron Wilson does care after all. And perhaps does pay attention to what Don Cherry says.
Cherry criticized the Leafs bench boss last month on Coach’s Corner, saying Wilson doesn’t “care” because he didn’t join his fellow coaches in applauding the more than 500 Canadian troops who were on hand for Armed Forces Appreciation Night.
But that was then.
Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Maple Leafs coach joined the rest of the Air Canada Centre on their feet and applauded for two of Canada’s bravest during the third period’s Luke’s Troops celebration.
The truth is, how could you not clap for these heroes?
The referees did, players did and visiting coaches did.
The story of Sgt. Cameron Laidlaw, 33 and his wife, Master Cpl. Nicole Laidlaw, 26, is the stuff of movies.
In 2007 and ’08 they served together in Afghanistan — he with the 3rd Royal Canadian Regiment in infantry combat and she as a patrolling member of the Military Police.
They were often just 5 km apart, although boyfriend and girlfriend didn’t see each other for a whole year.
Having seen so many friends killed and so many severely wounded, it was a rough time for both, but they were so proud to help liberate the Afghan people from the oppressive Taliban.
Cameron himself wounded in the same bomb blast that killed his close pals, Sgt. Rob Short and Cpl. Robbie Beerenfenger.
“It stays with you,” Laidlaw said of being in such an explosion. He received a concussion and facial lacerations and is lucky to be alive. “Those guys, and all of the men and women who died there, are with us here tonight and we thank Luke Schenn for hosting military personnel and veterans of war at these games.”
When they were patrolling the rough zones near Kandahar, neither knew whether they would see each other again — let alone know if they’d even get to come home.
Then came time for leave.
Cameron was not going to take any chances.
“We arranged to meet in Australia,” said Cameron. “I knew I was going to propose to her.”
If he did, Nicole said, she was going to say, “Yes.”
They survived the war and, after coming home, both were stationed here in Toronto, where she’s a copper at CFB Downsview and he’s a trainer.
But the best news came one year ago with the birth of their daughter, Emma.
“It’s a blessing,” said Nicole, adding that they take nothing for granted.
Every story the great Andy Frost reads out at Leafs’ home games is compelling, but this one had a lot of tears in people’s eyes — particularly when he said Cameron will receive his medal for courage in two weeks.
Cherry’s original comment sparked a war of words and an admission from Maple Leafs boss Brian Burke that he went to the CBC to complain.
Cherry said this complaint was lodged to “deflect” attention from the fact the team has not made the playoffs in so many years.
That may be the case, but when everybody was standing there at the ACC cheering on these terrific young people in uniform, it was a very special patriotic moment and one that made me realize time’s too precious for petty disputes.
The Leafs won the game last night and, as usual, the classy organization showed why it is the envy of the sports world.
Every once in a while, Canadians need to be reminded of how we have our freedoms and such a great life — and there were two soldiers on hand Wednesday night who did exactly that.
It’s pretty difficult not to applaud that and I didn’t see anyone at the Air Canada Centre who disagreed.
Including Ron Wilson.