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Proteau: Reflecting On Remembrance Day

Adam Proteau reflects on the lives lost and the service given in the line of duty during Remembrance Day and Veterans Day.
Remembrance Day

Every year, on Nov. 11, North Americans are reminded, no matter what communities we’re part of, that we owe a massive “thank you” to our armed forces service-people who served and died in the line of duty. 

Professional hockey is no different – over the decades, there has been a long list of players who’ve answered the call and gone into battle, not knowing if they’d ever see their loved ones again. Famous hockey names such as Conn Smythe, Milt Schmidt, Turk Broda, Syl Apps and Hobey Baker (who died in the First World War) and Dudley Garrett (who lost his life in the Second World War) all bravely stepped forward and fought for their cause. Together, they’ve sacrificed their minds and bodies, and the freedoms we enjoy so casually today would not have been there without them.

In some respects, it’s difficult to envision today’s NHLers doing the same. This is not a negative comment on their character, but rather, an acknowledgement that the money they make and the status they have could keep them out of the line of fire.

Indeed, in Russia’s current war of aggression against Ukraine, the authoritarian Russian government has forced some of its elite hockey players into the fray: Flyers goalie prospect Ivan Fedotov was reportedly conscripted into service in July and sent to a military base in the remote city of Severomorsk, and Russian player Vladislav Lukin was convicted by a Ufa, Rus. court of bribery in an attempt to avoid military service in 2019, according to official state news agency TASS. Otherwise, Russian NHLers have stayed out of the fray, and it’s hard to blame them.

If, god forbid, the planet was drawn into a third World War, with safety and freedom on the line, it’s likely we would see many NHLers – North American and otherwise – willing to put on a military uniform and do what their relatives did all those years ago. 

It’s at times like this that we should realize how fortunate we all are to populate hockey at so many different levels, and again, take today to offer a solemn tribute to recognize the heroism that helped the Allied Forces win the First and Second World Wars. 

While they were still alive, those NHLers – and veterans in general – eschewed the hero label, telling all who would listen that the real heroes were the men who never made it back home. Their families are forever scarred by the untimely deaths of their loved ones, and nothing can replace the hole they left in their hometowns and inner circles.

Hockey does a good job of honoring military servicemen-and-women throughout the year, but there’s something different about Nov. 11. Canadians and many other citizens of the world wear poppies every year to commemorate Remembrance Day, but most of us remember our military people every day. 

This writer’s grandfather served in the United Kingdom’s army in the Second World War, and he carried the burden of terrible memories and countless outrages for the rest of his life. He was proud of his service, to be sure, but the imprint of war left him not quite the same person after the war ended and he left his homeland of Scotland to emigrate to Canada.

There is nothing glamorous about war. On this continent, we’ve been on the right side of history during World Wars, but if there’s ever an alternative to combat, we should always be taking that option first. We don’t want to lose any more people to war – NHLers or otherwise – and on this and every Remembrance Day (and Veterans Day, in the U.S.), our thoughts should be about the humanity that was damaged, in many cases, irreversibly. War may again be necessary, but we can never forget about the lives that we lost in trying to fight a good fight and the spirits that broke along the way. 

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