Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada
CBC Sports | NHL

Hockey Night in CanadaForbes Kennedy still has plenty of fight

Posted: Monday, February 6, 2012 | 07:18 PM

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The annual Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada will celebrate Prince Edward Island on Saturday. The land of Anne of Green Gables, potatoes and Stompin' Tom Connors may be the smallest province in Canada, but its hockey tradition is rich and full of characters.
The annual Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada will celebrate Prince Edward Island on Saturday. The land of Anne of Green Gables, potatoes and Stompin' Tom Connors may be the smallest province in Canada, but its hockey tradition is rich and full of characters. From visits by St. Dunstan's University to the national championship to NHL success from pioneers like Forbes Kennedy Billy MacMillan and Errol Thompson to current NHLers Mark Flood, Adam McQuaid and Brad Richards, PEI has a proud hockey past. Richards celebrated the Stanley Cup with the locals in 2004 after his Tampa Bay Lightning won the NHL championship. McQuaid followed suite seven summers later with his victorious Boston Bruins. This week cbcsports.ca senior hockey writer Tim Wharnsby will compile a series of stories on PEI hockey, beginning with the perfect starting point, 76-year-old Forbes Kennedy.

Forbes Kennedy's limp has gone. He used to hobble around noticeably. His right knee never was the same after he underwent surgery to remove cartilage back in the summer of 1969, an operation that robbed him of his hockey career.

But after procedures to replace the left and right knees - the most recent two years ago - Kennedy feels spry again. The limp has gone and "I'm not as bow-legged as I used to be," he said.

Kennedy has been apprehensive to get back on skates with his new knees, but he plans to give it a try before this winter concludes. "I'm half nervous about it, but it's about time I see how my knees feel on skates," Kennedy said, laughing.

Laughter always is omnipresent whenever there is a gathering around Kennedy, a true Island character and raconteur. He often can be found at his son's establishment on University Ave., called the Sportsman Club, but he doesn't drink anymore. He gave up alcohol in 1984 because he wanted to set a better example for his grandkids. He also doesn't smoke his trademark cigars. He gave those up a month-and-a-half ago.

Although, time has ticked on and 43 years have elapsed since Kennedy's days as a rugged and relentless checker and penalty killer, he still gets asked about his part in the infamous brawl game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins in the 1969 Stanley Cup playoff opener.

"I don't mind talking about it," said Kennedy, who played for the Maple Leafs back then. "It happened and that's what people remember and want to know about."

The Bruins were giving it pretty good to the Maple Leafs that night. Boston wound up winning 10-0. Earlier in the proceedings, Toronto defenceman Pat Quinn rocked Bruins standout Bobby Orr with a bodycheck that knocked out the superstar. The Beantown faithful were irate and wanted revenge on Quinn. But he retired to the safety of the Maple Leafs dressing room.

Kennedy was acquired a month earlier from the Philadelphia Flyers for his toughness. He had piled up 195 penalty minutes in 59 games for the Flyers that season before landing on the Maple Leafs doorstep. So he became the primary target of the Bruins with Quinn out of the picture, even a fan reached over the glass and hit Kennedy with a punch.

But Kennedy met every challenge. He fought and fought and fought that night. He set records for most penalties in a game (eight), most minutes (38), most penalties in a period (six) and most penalty minutes in a period (34).

He was suspended for four games and fined $1,000 for punching a lineman after the last melee. Maple Leafs assistant general manager King Clancy paid Kennedy's fine because the latter's salary only was $19,000 back then.

"How can you forget a night like that,?" Kennedy said. "They were coming at me all game. My last fight was against [Johnny] McKenzie and I had nothing left. I was exhausted."

Unfortunately for Kennedy, it would be the last game he played. He never recovered from knee surgery and for awhile he was bitter about his early departure. But then one day Kennedy altered his thinking after watching a young girl in braces exhibit her fortitude during her rehab session.

"I couldn't believe I was mad and bitter at the world," he said. "It was the wake-up call I needed."

It wasn't long afterwards he returned home to Charlottetown. He worked for the city taking care of some of the baseball diamonds in town in the summer and coached hockey in the winter. Last month, he was honoured on Forbes Kennedy Night at Eastlink Arena before a Summerside Western Capitals game, a team he used to coach.

Kennedy was born in Dorchester, N.B., not far from the Northumberland Strait that separates New Brunswick from PEI. His family moved to the Island when he was young, but it wasn't until Kennedy was 11 that he started to skate and play hockey. His father was upset that he was playing cowboys and Indians around the house one day and he wanted his son to play hockey. After a few days, the younger Kennedy finally came around and fell in love with with the sport.

After playing junior in Halifax and in Montreal for the junior Canadiens, the Habs dealt his NHL rights to the Chicago Blackhawks in May 1956. After a season in Chicago, he was sent to the Detroit Red Wings, along with Johnny Wilson, Hank Bassen and Bill Preston in exchange for Ted Lindsay and goalie Glenn Hall.

He went on to play 12 seasons and 603 NHL games for Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto. He still travels to Boston occasionally in the spring to take in a Bruins playoff game and always checks in to see Bobby Orr. A few years ago, the Flyers invited him back to partake in the 40th reunion of the organizations original expansion in team from 1967-68.

"That was a great time," Kennedy recalled. "[Flyers] owner Ed Snider is one of my favourite owners. He's first class all the way."

And what does Kennedy think about hockey these days? 

"I'm asked about the differences between the game today and when I played," Kennedy said. "To me it's a lot different. I don't like the game without the centre-ice line. It's now a lazy man's game. They just have to fire the puck off the glass to send it down the ice."

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