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CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Kenny MacDougall remembers his first practice with coach Forbes Kennedy like it was yesterday.
MacDougall was a 16-year-old playing for the Charlottetown Abbies junior A squad in 1990-91, and the initial practice was at old Charlottetown Forum.
“I remember skating through this black stuff on the ice and I didn't know what it was,” he recalled Wednesday night. “I looked over and there was a man wearing dress pants and a leather jacket (with) a cigar in his mouth.”
That man was Forbes Kennedy, and the black stuff on the ice was cigar ash.
It was the start of a friendship that exists nearly 30 years later and is one of hundreds of stories that people in the province, and those spread throughout the country, recall with fondness.
MacDougall admitted he didn't know all of Kennedy’s history when he made the Abbies. But what he quickly learned was the man coaching them cared about winning, playing the game the right way, being a good teammate and sticking up for each other.
“That meant more than anything he ever accomplished in his career,” MacDougall said.
It was a different era. There were no cellphones or social media.
After a practice, Kennedy would take guys like MacDougall and others to places like Rustico to help run minor hockey practices.
“I think that was the inspiration for me to get into coaching and helping kids,” said MacDougall, who has coached junior and university teams and is now the bench boss for the Mount Academy Saints. “He made a big impact on my life.”
MacDougall called him as loyal a person as you will meet.
“We knew he had our backs and we played for him because of that. He was just the best at creating a team atmosphere,” he said.
Kennedy, who no longer smokes, can often be seen chomping on a cigar, believed in his players and teams.
At the end of MacDougall’s rookie season, the Abbies were trailing the Summerside Western Capitals 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.
“Forbie kept saying, ‘We’re crazy enough to win it. We’re crazy enough to win it’,” MacDougall recalled as if it was yesterday. “I remember hearing him in the hallways, hearing him in the dressing room, hearing him before games saying, ‘Don’t count us out. We’re crazy enough to win it’.”
In front of 3,000 people in 1991, the first year of the Charlottetown Civic Centre, the Abbies won Game 7 in overtime to take the series 4-3.
“When we scored that winning goal, I remember thinking he believed in us – that’s how we did it.”