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Riverton Rifle makes play for young lives

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Reggie Leach was known as a goal scorer during his 13-year NHL career but assists have become his priority in retirement.

Known as the Riverton Rifle for his booming slapshot, the now 63-year-old Stanley Cup winner with the Philadelphia Flyers spends much of his time working with at-risk aboriginal youth.

He talks to them about suicide, drugs and alcohol abuse, women victimized by violence and even the dangers of social media.

"A lot of native kids commit suicide. They always think people don't like them. You have to talk to these kids, you can't ignore them," he said.

Leach lives on Manitoulin Island, west of Sudbury, Ont.

Despite his own alcoholism -- Leach has been sober since 1985 -- he never contemplated suicide, he said.

"It all comes down to making the right life choices. You've got to stay off drugs, stay positive and keep yourself busy.

"It's not only in First Nations communities, it's all over," he said.

He also preaches the importance of getting an education and eliminating bullying.

"Bullying is the worst thing right now; it's all over the world. But just as bad is the bystander that lets them do it," he said.

Leach was in Manitoba for a few days to help out at a hockey school in Gimli and participate in a charity golf tournament.

He'll be back in the province Sept. 21 to headline a sports banquet in his hometown to raise money for minor hockey programs and for the restoration of the Riverton Heritage Centre -- which used to serve as its train station.

Riverton is 130 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

The event will also serve as a reunion for alumni of the Riverton Lions senior hockey team.

"We're going to raise as much as we can. I've been raising money for Riverton for years, for minor hockey and the rink," Leach said.

He played for the Riverton Lions as a teen, an experience that was overwhelming because his teammates doubled as his heroes.

"That's why I wanted to play hockey. I based myself after them," he said.

Clif Evans, co-chairman of the event -- dubbed the Legacy of the Lions -- said he's hoping to raise up to $20,000, to be split evenly between both causes.

Evans said his group also wants to restore the Home of Reggie Leach sign on the highway.

Tickets are $60 and can be bought at the town office and the Riverton Motor Inn.

Leach, who also played junior hockey for the Flin Flon Bombers, has yet to visit the MTS Centre to see the reborn Winnipeg Jets play, but said he'd like to return Nov. 15 when the Flyers pay a visit.

He won the Stanley Cup with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1975 and scored 381 goals during his career, which also included stints with the Boston Bruins, California Golden Seals and Detroit Red Wings. Leach was also drafted by the Edmonton Oilers of the World Hockey Association.

He is part of one of the few father-son tandems to have won hockey's holy grail. His son, Jamie, who played parts of five seasons in the NHL, won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 22, 2013 A2

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