Forget the fighting - drop the puck!

DOUG BEAZLEY -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- Someone slaps a stick on the concrete, the ball shoots off the boards and lands in the goalie's glove. The players assemble.

They've got the rink, the equipment and the will to win. All they need is ice, a beer concession - and maybe a visit from Don Cherry.

It's Hockey Night in Kandahar. Don't these people know there's a war on?

Credit the Engineering Support Unit out of Petawawa for bringing a vital piece of Canadiana to the middle of the Central Asian desert.

"We built this back in September, October," said ESU Sgt. Joel Sawler.

"We were using the concrete pad over at the American gym, but you can't get a real game going without the boards."

The Canadians at Kandahar started with a 13-team league back in September.

One team was dropped from competition for unnecessary roughness, believe it or not.

There are just two American teams. They're tied for last place.

"It's not bad, is it?" said ESU Master Cpl. Cory Gill. "It's a big piece of home. One of the best parts."

The Kandahar Airfield is a world unto itself. If you kept your eyes off the mountains on the horizon, you might fool yourself into thinking you were in a temporary work camp in the northern Canadian oilpatch.

Alongside the hockey rink there's a soccer pitch, surrounded by a brand new boardwalk.

All along the rim of the boardwalk there's a surprising array of retail - three Afghan gift shops (carpets, scarves, hats), an embroidery store, a shop selling tactical gear, another selling sports equipment.

There's a bank, a Pizza Hut, a Burger King, a Subway - and Tim Hortons, of course, which tends to have a lineup around the block during daylight hours.

Johanne Thibeau is KAF's civilian Welfare Manager. She's responsible for turning the camp from the rough-and-ready military post it was a year ago to something a little more civilized - a little more like home.

"The most important thing for maintaining morale is making sure everyone gets to go home regularly," she said. "They get 18 days' holiday every six months, civilian transport all paid by us.

"They get 35 minutes per week of free phone calls home... anything beyond that they can pay for. They have Internet access. We even have wireless now."


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