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Matters of the heart: Former NHLer Iafrate visits to promote Hockey Heroes weekend

Al Iafrate, the fourth overall pick in the 1984 NHL draft, still enjoys getting out and playing hockey. This week, the 51-year-old was in town to play with a group of Truro players who will attend the Hockey Heroes tournament in support of the Heart and Stroke Foundation in April.
Al Iafrate, the fourth overall pick in the 1984 NHL draft, still enjoys getting out and playing hockey. This week, the 51-year-old was in town to play with a group of Truro players who will attend the Hockey Heroes tournament in support of the Heart and Stroke Foundation in April. - Joey Smith

TRURO, N.S. – Al Iafrate understands the importance of raising funds for heart and stroke research.

In 2003, the former NHLer suffered a massive heart attack while coaching his son’s minor hockey team in his hometown of Plymouth, Mich. Thankfully, emergency personnel were close by and able to give Iafrate the care he needed before he was transported to hospital.

In April, Iafrate will give back to the cause by participating in the Hockey Heroes weekend for the eighth time at the BMO Centre in Bedford.

“Whatever I can do to help, I’m always the first one in line,” Iafrate said this week following a game of pickup at the Rath-Eastlink Community Centre.

Iafrate was in Nova Scotia this week to help promote the spring event. He was in Halifax Tuesday for a fundraising launch, before lacing up the blades on Wednesday in Truro for a skate with fellow heart and stroke tournament participants from the area.

Truro sends three teams to the tournament each year. Combined, those teams have raised about $450,000 for life-saving research and programs which address heart disease and stroke.

“What people don’t realize is heart and stroke, it’s not like it’s a government-funded organization; all their money comes from donations and charity fundraisers and guys like that are the reason why I’m still here … it’s very overwhelming … the gratefulness I have, it’s hard to put into words.”

John Guinan has been the point man for the Truro group since the tournament’s inception. Guinan, 59, had open heart surgery in 2010, and while in hospital, he met an 82-year-old volunteer from the Heart and Stroke Foundation who inspired him to become involved.

“I thought, ‘if this guy’s donating his time, if I get through the other side, I’ll help too.”’

Players who participate in the tournament are required to raise a minimum of $1,000 to secure a spot on a team, and Guinan said Truro and area players have come through in spades.

“Every one of those guys in there, those are the guys who are the heroes,” he said, while pointing to the dressing room. “They just step up every time. I couldn’t be prouder of these guys here; they’ve done it each and every year. It’s a lot of work but it’s worth it.”

Victoria Boswall, communications manager for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, said the contribution from Truro players can’t be overstated.

“Our Truro teams are absolutely a force to be reckoned with,” she said. “I think they have mobilized themselves to be a community within a community of men who just really love the cause and really love to play hockey and love to stay active. They really look forward to this event every year. I know this event wouldn’t be where it is without people like our Truro teams.”

Have stick, will travel

TRURO, N.S. – When Al Iafrate was asked to play a game of pickup hockey with a group of Truro players this week, the former NHL blueliner didn’t hesitate.

“If you’re a hockey player and people ask you to play hockey and you say no, I gotta believe you’re kind of a dud,” Iafrate laughed on Wednesday, following the hour-long ice session at the RECC. “So when you’re a hockey player and people ask you to play hockey I think the natural answer’s gotta be, hell yeah!”

Iafrate was in Nova Scotia this week to help promote the Hockey Heroes tournament in April at the BMO Centre in Bedford in support of the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

He joined a group of fellow tournament participants for a skate in Truro a day after taking part in a fundraising launch for the event in Halifax.

Iafrate was a first-round draft pick, fourth overall, of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1984. He played seven seasons for the Leafs before he was traded to the Washington Capitals midway through the 1990-91 season. He also skated with the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks.

He played almost 800 games in the NHL and was best known for his booming slap-shot. In 1993, Iafrate won the hardest shot event in the NHL all-star game skills competition, blasting a shot that reached 105.2 miles per hour. It was a record that stood for 16 years before Zdeno Chara broke it in 2009 with a shot that was clocked at 105.4 mph.

On Wednesday, Iafrate decided not to unleash his howitzer.

“It’s like a double-edged sword because everyone’s waiting to see it and then there’s no radar gun, so they’re going to judge by what they see and I think sometimes perception isn’t very good by some guys,” he said laughing.

Truro’s John Guinan, who has been involved in the heart and stroke tournament since its inception eight years ago, said Iafrate was a most welcome guest.

“Al’s a great guy. He’s been a journeyman, he’s played in this thing since Day 1, so he’s a great ambassador for it. He comes up here and kind of reinvigorates us. Each year we get a little older, so you’ve got to spark it up a little bit and that’s exactly what he’s doing. It really is a special pleasure.”

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