A win-win for hockey greats, fans
ASPEN Reed Larsen learned long ago not to play in recreational men’s hockey leagues.”Too many guys who want to show you up,” said the three-time NHL All-Star defenseman, best known for his 10 years spent with the Detroit Red Wings during a 13-year, six-team NHL career. “If you’re playing and some guy hooks you or something, if you do something back, you’re the bad guy, the NHL guy.” Added Larsen: “Some of these guys want to show they can play, which is fine, but there’s a time and a place for everything.”Indeed. While Larsen doesn’t play in recreational leagues, he does do NHL alumni charity games. He plays in them because he believes in giving back after getting the chance to play pro hockey, but also because, even at 51, his hankering for competition is still strong.It’s why he’ll be on the ice at 7 p.m. Saturday at Lewis Ice Arena competing with a bunch of other retired NHL stars against a team of locals wanting nothing more than to show up some former pro hockey players. “I don’t really know what it is, camaraderie, I guess, but it’s addictive,” Larsen said of charity games like Saturday’s Stirling Cup. The proceeds from the exhibition between the NHL Celebrity All-Stars and the local Aspen Leafs will benefit Aspen Junior Hockey, Aspen United Soccer and the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. A resident of Minneapolis, where he starred under legendary University of Minnesota coach Herb Brooks, Larsen said the pro hockey community is unique when it comes to charity work. He said former players are more willing to do appearances for no monetary gain, as opposed to the fees that some former NBA, NFL and Major League players demand.”We certainly don’t make any money, and we’re not looking to do that,” said Larsen. “I don’t know if it’s changing with the salaries, or the modern athlete, but some sports miss the meaning. Between raising money and charity, the people who organize the games make it fun for us. We skate, we ski, we golf, we fly-fish. People are certainly doing these things for a good cause, and it’s always first class.”Ron Duguay, one of Larsen’s former teammates on the Red Wings who played 12 seasons in the NHL, said the perk of an all-expenses-paid trip to Aspen is incentive enough to commit to a charity hockey game. The fans get a great game, and the players get what amounts to a paid vacation.”It’s all about fun,” said Duguay, who lives in Jacksonville, Fla., and has five children with supermodel wife Kim Alexis. “All the players are aware that it becomes a win-win situation for everybody. We just show up, don’t have to worry about much, and, at the end of the day, someone is going to benefit from the game.”Duguay, 50, said former NHLers particularly like playing in Aspen because the game is one of the most competitive they’ll find on the celebrity circuit, where checking and slapshots both are outlawed.”As long as the game is close, it doesn’t matter who wins,” said Duguay, before noting that he’s never actually lost in a charity game. “We need a couple of young players who can play because we don’t want to get whipped. It’s in the blood.””We all want to win,” added Larsen. “We could play guys who are the same age, but I don’t think it’s going to be competitive if we played against guys our age. It’s mostly a number of guys who are between 10 and 20 years younger. You can tell when you’re playing against them if they’re in good shape and they can play, otherwise everybody takes it easy and has a good time and tells some jokes.”For more information on the Stirling Cup, including Sunday’s charity golf tournament, go to http://www.stirlingcup.com.Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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