TORONTO – When sitting in an NHL arena in the biggest city in Canada, the grass huts of Maputo, Mozambique couldn’t seem any further away.
Even that didn’t affect Robyn Regehr’s memory while talking about a recent trip he took to the country in Southeast Africa.
The Calgary Flames defenceman travelled to Mozambique with Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara as Right To Play ambassadors in late June. They visited areas of the country where the organization has set up programs to try and help poor children through sports.
It was similar to the trip NHLers Andrew Ference and Steve Montador took to Tanzania last summer and it’s something Regehr would like to see others do in the future.
“I’m a big believer that we should get as many people as possible to go over there every five or six years,” he said Friday before playing in the Festival Cup charity hockey game. “It readjusts your perception level of everything. All we see of Africa is what a lot people want us to see, what certain media outlets wants us to see.
“By going over there yourself, you get to see something different. It’s a real good experience.”
The experience is something Regehr is happy to share with anyone who asks and the 28-year-old expects a lot of other players to start doing just that once training camp opens in a few weeks.
Regehr was one of several NHLers to participate in the inaugural Festival Cup game on Friday night that was played in support of Right To Play. He was thrilled to look around the dressing room and see guys like Mats Sundin, Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza, Sean Avery and others lending their support to the cause.
“I hope it just keeps growing,” he said.
That’s because he’s been on the front lines.
While in Mozambique, Regehr and Chara played games with the children and spoke to the facilitators that have been tasked with running the Right To Play programs. Nothing he’d heard about the charity’s work ahead of time could compare to actually seeing it himself.
“To go over there and see that and hear it from them, for me it shows that being involved in something like this is very, very important,” said Regehr.
Many of the program facilitators were also teachers in the country and said that attendance rates skyrocketed in schools where the Right To Play programs were being run.
The NHLers also did some travelling outside the capital of Maputo and were exposed to some extreme poverty.
“There was some eye-opening and sobering stuff,” said Regehr. “Going out into the rural areas and seeing the one room mud stick huts they live in and seeing how dirty the environments were for the kids.”
Even still, most of the children they encountered seemed happy.
They were awfully curious about the six-foot-three Regehr and six-foot-nine Chara, though.
“We were both looked upon as giants,” said Regehr.
The next time Right To Play decides to send a pro hockey player over to Africa they should think about calling Joe Thornton. The San Jose Sharks forward has supported the organization with donations for the past couple years and is eager to do more.
“I’m definitely going to go on one of those trips with them and see what it’s all about over there,” he said. “I’m big into sports and I like kids getting involved with sports. I think it’s a great idea and it’s just something that can benefit kids all over the place.”
Regehr plans to return to the continent at some point to explore some different countries.
His trip to Mozambique lasted barely more than a week and there was a lot to absorb while he was there.
“It’s a heck of a long ways to go for eight days,” said Regehr. “But it was completely worth it.”