Harper, Cherry coach for charity

Prime Minister Stephen Harper dropped the puck to start off Hockey Night in Barrie, a fundraiser for Royal Victoria Hospital's cancer care centre.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper dropped the puck Thursday to start off Hockey Night in Barrie, a fundraiser for the southern Ontario city's Royal Victoria Hospital cancer care centre.

Clipboard in hand, Harper then joined Don Cherry of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada   behind the bench as the game got underway.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper holds a clipboard while coaching with Don Cherry during Hockey Night in Barrie, a fundraiser to raise money for the Royal Victoria Hospital's cancer care centre. ((Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press))

The Conservative prime minister coached the blue team, which won the game 11-8.

Earlier in the evening, the professed hockey fan got a healthy round of applause from the thousands of people who packed the arena for the charity match.

"What other country in the world would you have 5,000 people come out on a hot ... night in a cold rink to support a great charity?" Harper told the cheering crowd. "Isn't this great?"

But he was soon eclipsed by the deafening roar when Cherry's name was called.

"Cherry! Cherry!" the crowd chanted.

As Harper soon discovered, it's hard to compete when there are hockey stars in the room.

The game featured over 20 former and current NHL players, including Wendel Clark, Darcy Tucker and Shayne Corson.

They were joined on the ice by Conservatives Peter MacKay and Dean Del Mastro, as well as former Olympic skater Kurt Browning and singer Michael Burgess, who belted out the national anthem.

Garret McMullen, 12, who lost his mother to cancer over a year ago, was by the prime minister's side during the opening ceremony.

"I'd really like to help find a cure for cancer, and I just think I'd really make my mom proud doing this," he said.

As for his brush with political and hockey celebrities, McMullen took it in stride. Harper told him, "Good job" after he helped drop the puck, he said.

Asked what was more exciting — meeting the prime minister or the NHL players — McMullen was diplomatic.

"It's even," he said. "I can't say, really."

Former NHLers Mike Gartner and Steve Thomas also played during the fundraiser, which raised $200,000 for the centre.