PLAYERS EMBARK ON WHL RIDE FOR THE KIDS
By Cory Wolfe, The StarPhoenix – Curtis Leschyshyn’s idea of fun is a little different than most people’s.
When his NHL career ended seven years ago, he trekked to France, got on a bike and pedalled uphill for 14 kilometres. He enthusiastically climbed Alpe d’Huez, which hosts one of the most gruelling stages in the Tour de France.
“The first time that I ever climbed a mountain pass, I realized how exhilarating it was and I was hooked immediately,” said Leschyshyn, a former Saskatoon Blade who got serious about cycling in the mid-1990s while playing for the Colorado Avalanche.
Leschyshyn upped the ante Monday, leading a pack of fellow hockey players on a 137-km ride from Prince Albert to Saskatoon. The terrain was notably flatter than what he faced in France, but Monday’s five-hour ride was just the beginning of a 650-km journey dubbed WHL Ride for the Kids.
The goal of the campaign, backed by Scotiabank, is to raise $200,000 for the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan.
“Quite honestly, it went really well — maybe even a little better than we expected,” Leschyshyn said after arriving in the parking lot of Lawson Heights Mall. “Guys like D.J. King and Darcy Hordichuk rode the entire thing. They stuck it out and that’s not an easy ride. Guys who have never really ridden bikes did really well.”
By the time the journey ends Thursday in Regina, riders will have cruised through all five of Saskatchewan’s WHL cities: Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Swift Current, Moose Jaw and Regina. Blades goalie Adam Morrison joins the caravan for today’s trip from Saskatoon to Swift Current. He plans to pedal for 40 km of the 266-km leg.
“I’m a little bit nervous, but it’s for a good cause and I’m excited to be part of it,” said Morrison. “I’ll probably be sitting with something under my rear end for the next three or four days, but it’ll be a good experience.”
The Ride for the Kids initiative has attracted WHL alumni from the last 30 years. Monday’s roster of riders featured: Leschyshyn, Hordichuk, King, Colby and Riley Armstrong, Dane Byers, Dave Chartier, Kelly Chase, Kevin Kaminsky, Mike Keane, Ryan MacDonald, Dave Manson, Rhett Warrener and Clarke Wilm.
WHL commissioner Ron Robison also participated.
“Players are our greatest asset and now the alumni has taken it to another level,” said Robison. “They wanted to do something not only to help a wonderful cause, but they also wanted to thank the communities in which they played and thank the province for giving them a start in the game and their careers.”
The WHL Alumni Association took root four years ago, with Kelly Hrudey as president. Harnassing their sway and influence for positive projects is something the WHL hopes to continue doing, said Robison.
“This (WHL Ride for the Kids) is just another dimension that’s the result of leadership by Kelly Chase, Curtis Leschyshyn and Dave Chartier. We have a Saskatchewan group that’s come together to work on something they’re really passionate about.”
Most of the cycling newbies rode in an accompanying RV for at least part of Monday’s journey. The exceptions were Hordichuk and King who stuck with Leschyshyn for the entire 137-km ride.
Hordichuk had never biked further than 15 km prior to Monday, but he felt compelled to push himself for the cause.
“This is where I got my start,” said the Florida Panthers winger, who was a fan favourite during two WHL seasons (1998-2000) with the Blades. “It’s great to play in the NHL, but at this point in my life, it’s more about giving back.”
THE 650-KM ROUTE
Monday: Prince Albert to Saskatoon. Distance: 136.6 km.Cycling time: five hours.
Tuesday: Saskatoon to Swift Current. Distance: 266.2 km.Cycling time: 11 hours.
Wednesday: Swift Current to Moose Jaw. Distance: 173.3 km.Cycling time: seven hours.
Thursday: Moose Jaw to Regina. Distance: 73.5 km.Cycling time: three hours.