KENSINGTON – There is one word synonymous with the Kensington, P.E.I.-Bedford, Que., Peewee Friendship Hockey Exchange.
“It’s the friendships that are made,” said George MacKay, who managed the first-ever Kensington team to participate in the exchange. “Everybody has made friendships. Some people go back and forth in the summer, and spend their holiday down here or up there.”
More memories will be developed this weekend. The Bedford contingent arrived on P.E.I. Friday afternoon for the first half of the exchange, which is now in its 50th year. Kensington makes the return trip to Quebec in February.
The first exchange was held in 1969. There was none in 1970, however, it resumed in 1971, and has been held every year since.
“I was hoping it would last 50 years, and by the look of it it’s going to go a good long time,” said MacKay. “I look forward to them coming and taking part.”
After Kensington’s peewee A team went for a number of years – which often resulted in players going multiple times while others who only played on the B team never got an opportunity – a change was made so all peewee-aged players in Kensington would have an opportunity to participate.
“There were some people who were not pleased, and we knew what we had to come up with – that was everybody would get a turn to go,” said MacKay, who was on a committee that implemented the change. “Then the girls got in it, and that was wonderful and made it even better.”
One of the highlights for all 50 years has been the billeting of players.
“It’s a chance for our kids to meet another group of kids with difficult cultures,” explained MacKay. “A lot of them can’t speak English, but they can play games together, and they understand one another within five minutes.”
One player who experienced that is Kensington Intermediate-Senior High School principal Donald Mulligan, who played on the Kensington teams in 1979 and 1980.
“When you are 12 years old moving in with a new family for the weekend, it was an experience, too,” said Mulligan, whose trip to Bedford provided an opportunity for his first plane ride. “The family I went to the first time was a big family, they were all French, none of them could speak English.
“It was quite an adjustment period, and was quite a cultural shock for all of us. They couldn’t have been any friendlier or more accommodating, and it ended up being a wonderful weekend.”
When asked if there are any specific memories that stand out, Mulligan said there are two.
“It was in 1979 and the Montreal Canadiens were winning Stanley Cups, and we met Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Jacques Lemaire and some of the stars as they were just coming off the ice after practice. . . It was quite a thrill going into the Montreal Forum, which was something we had only seen on TV.”
The other thrill for Mulligan took place back at Community Gardens in 1979.
“We were tied after regulation,” recalled Mulligan. “We went into overtime because back then it was more competitive, and it was a two-game, total-goal series.
“It was a Saturday night, and it seemed like a huge crowd, and we won in overtime. That was one of my better minor hockey experiences.”
For Rona Burt, this is a special weekend. Brothers Brian and Stan Gibson – two players on the inaugural Bedford team – will stay with Burt at her Kensington home.
“Their parents were always good friends of ours in the exchange,” said Burt. “The other day I dug out my guest book, and I found the signatures of Brian and Stan’s mother and father. I will show that to them when they come.”
Wade Caseley, who is a member of this year’s 50th year organizing committee, played in 1981 and 1982. Caseley noted he played in numerous tournaments over his hockey career, but his Bedford experiences stand out.
“I can remember my Bedford weekend from start to finish vividly, every step of it, every part of it,” noted Caseley. “If you talk to any alumni, whether they went 50 years ago or last year, they’ll tell you the same thing.
“Your (Kensington area) kids that done well in hockey, (Toronto Maple Leafs’ draft pick and former pro player) Morgan Warren, (Saint John Sea Dogs captain) Bailey Webster, (former pro player and Oshawa Generals assistant coach) Nathan McIver and more recently (Summerside Western Capitals’ rookie forward) Cameron Roberts, I’m confident if you went and interviewed those guys with the success they have had in hockey they would probably reminisce about the Bedford weekend. To me, that’s quite a statement what it’s done for our community.”