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Hockey DayAbegweit Ice: Reflecting on Hockey in Charlottetown

Posted: Monday, January 16, 2012 | 03:34 PM

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Al MacAdam, is one of the P.E.I. natives who understands the passion for the game.   (Mike Dembeck/Getty Images) Al MacAdam, is one of the P.E.I. natives who understands the passion for the game. (Mike Dembeck/Getty Images)

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I was just a "kid from away" who had been weaned on the rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens.  Therefore, my first CBC assignment covering hockey for the supper hour news program "Compass," in Prince Edward Island, specifically Charlottetown, amounted to navigating uncharted waters.
I was just a "kid from away" who had been weaned on the rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens.  Therefore, my first CBC assignment covering hockey for the supper hour news program "Compass," in Prince Edward Island, specifically Charlottetown, amounted to navigating uncharted waters.

With eyes wide open, I waded into those waters in the mid-eighties only to discover an icebound tradition...no let's say obsession...that was very deep indeed.

And in the provincial capital it was the intensity of the hockey and its principal characters that lifted the game off the rink and into the stands at the old Charlottetown Forum where Claude Vaive, the NHLer Ricky Vaive's dad, still operated the skate sharpening shop.  

It was the blue haze of the smokers that hovered above the ice as the UPEI Panthers battled the despised Moncton Blue Eagles that gave proceedings an otherworldly feel.

It was old time hockey.  You'd see the same teams over and over again and the same fans sat in the same seats at every game.  It was, in a way, predictable but it was the drama that you never dared to miss.

You talk about rivalry.  

The Leafs and Habs had nothing on the hometown Abbies and their coach, Forbes Kennedy when and the hated Summerside Western Capitals came to town.  Every game was literally fought for tooth and nail and regional jealousies between the two cities boiled over and spilled onto the playing surface.

There were great players to watch.  Albert Roche and Ronnie Carragher were the speedy stars of the university Panthers who were perennial contenders in what was then the AUAA.  The team had great skill and incredible heart throughout the lineup.  The coach was the affable Vince Mulligan who patrolled the bench while wearing a sort of pork pie hat vaguely reminiscent of Toe Blake or Punch Imlach.

And then there was that magical season in 1987-88 when the Charlottetown Islanders challenged for the Allan Cup against the Thunder Bay Twins.  Prince Edward Island greats who had starred in the NHL came back to recall their glory days and as seniors lift Charlottetown onto the national stage.

Bobby MacMillan, who had been a 50-goal scorer and a big name with Atlanta and Chicago, was there and so was the soft spoken but rugged Al MacAdam who had produced so much with Philadelphia and Minnesota during an illustrious professional career.  Even Hilliard Graves, who was actually born in Saint John, NB, brought his California Golden Seal credentials to the Islanders.

It was raucous and it was thrilling to watch.  But mainly it was this loving attachment of the fans to local heroes that gave hockey in Charlottetown an irresistible appeal.

Abegweit is a Mi 'Kmaq word, which loosely translates to, "Cradle on the Waves."  It was used in reference to Prince Edward Island itself but the local hockey team adopted it as a nickname.  It was fitting, I always thought as a "kid from away."  

As I came to discover during my too short time in Charlottetown, the game of hockey was held so incredibly close to the heart.             

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