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Hockey Night in Canada star Don Cherry signs heavy artillery during a Christmas Day visit to troops stationed at outposts in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Steve Rennie/The Canadian Press/Steve Rennie/The Canadian Press)
Hockey Night in Canada star Don Cherry signs heavy artillery during a Christmas Day visit to troops stationed at outposts in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Steve Rennie/The Canadian Press/Steve Rennie/The Canadian Press)

Don Cherry visits troops in Kandahar Add to ...

Coach's Corner came to Kandahar for Christmas.

Hockey commentator Don Cherry helped spread some seasonal cheer to Canadian soldiers at outposts across southern Afghanistan.

Chinook helicopters ferried Mr. Cherry and other dignitaries, including Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Gen. Walt Natynczyk, the chief of defence staff, to forward-operating bases.

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The 76-year-old Cherry worked the mostly French-Canadian troops at each stop with the Kandahar version of his long-running "Coach's Corner" segment that airs during the first intermission of NHL games.

"Is this your favourite team," he asked, holding up a Washington Capitals logo.

"No!" the troops shouted.

He held up a Calgary Flames logo. "Is that your favourite team?"

"No!" came the reply.

"What about that one?" he asked, a Montreal Canadiens logo in hand.

The troops erupted. But the biggest cheer came next.

"Les Nordiques!" someone cried as Mr. Cherry held up the logo of Quebec City's former NHL franchise, which the city is trying to bring back.

And so it went as Mr. Cherry and company hopped from one outpost to another. He posed for photographs and autographed everything from jerseys to heavy artillery. He mused about inscribing a message to the Taliban on one shell, but settled instead on "Good luck, Don Cherry."

Mr. MacKay was joined by International Development Minister Bev Oda and his parliamentary secretary, Laurie Hawn, a former fighter pilot. All three thanked the troops for their sacrifices.

"Make no mistake about it: things are improving because of the heavy load that you carry," Mr. MacKay told soldiers at Ma'sum Gar.

"And so for that, we are all very grateful. And we wish you the best for the new year."

Troops at Ma'sum Gar are still reeling from the death of one of their own last week. The blast from an improvised explosive device, or IED, killed Cpl. Steve Martin last week.

Mr. MacKay had a special gift for the Ma'sum Gar troops: the game ball from this year's Grey Cup, won by the Montreal Alouettes. That elicited a roar from the soldiers circled around him.

Quebec musician Dany St-Arnaud played songs for the troops on his guitar at each stop.

At one base, a soldier dressed in a tight-fitting Santa Claus costume gyrated while St-Arnaud played the Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" The troops hooted when a female soldier tucked some money into Kris Kringle's pants.

The defence minister unwittingly got into the act at Forward-Operating Base Tarnak, singing along with St-Arnaud to the Elvis Presley hit "Suspicious Minds."

As St-Arnaud strummed his guitar, Mr. MacKay gamely belted out the line "I still see suspicion in your eyes" to a whoop from the soldiers.

The insurgents had a Christmas gift of their own. They rocketed Kandahar Airfield just after nightfall.

 

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