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CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Forbes Kennedy was nervous during game days and he had the same feeling this week as nearly 300 people gathered to honour the man best known simply as Forbie.
You couldn’t tell once the show began.
During a question-and-answer session with Ron MacLean of Hockey Night in Canada and Rogers Hometown Hockey, Kennedy controlled the room. The sold-out crowd of 275 watched as intently as if they were waiting for an overtime winner in Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final while Kennedy relived stories of his professional hockey playing career and many years behind the bench coaching the next generations.
For Kennedy, Wednesday night was much like preparing for the game he loved, with the nerves rising as the puck drop approached.
“Once I put my foot on the ice for warmup I forgot everything,” he said. “I couldn't eat the day of the game, even when I coached. . . Once you got behind the bench it was a different game.”
Forbes (Forbie) Taylor Kennedy
Who – Kennedy, who grew up in Charlottetown and now lives in Stratford, played more than 600 games in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs from 1956-57 to 1968-69.
Age – 83.
Giving back – Kennedy has coached many young hockey and baseball players. He has also assisted in numerous fundraisers over the years.
GP G A Pts. PIM
603 70 108 178 888
First goal – Kennedy scored his first goal in December 1956 against Boston Bruins goalie Terry Sawchuk off a rebound. “I don't know if I scored it,” Kennedy admitted. Zellio Toppazzini was on his way back to Providence in the AHL. “The puck was there and we both took a whack at it. He said, ‘You got it’. I said, ‘I don't’ know if I got’. He said, ‘You’re taking it’.”
The nerves appeared to dissipate quickly Wednesday night as he settled into the chair on the stage in front of family, friends, former players, coaches, co-workers and those who revered the well-known team player’s career.
He shared stories from his early days, playing in the NHL’s Original 6, negotiating his contracts, Igor the pigeon and trading jabs with his brother, Jamie, who refereed when Forbie was coaching.
The admiration for Kennedy was as evident inside the walls of the P.E.I. Brewing Company, where the book launch occurred, as it is inside the red shores of the province.
“He’s a quiet, unassuming guy,” said Kenny MacDougall, who played for him with the Charlottetown Abbies in the early 1990s. “He doesn't like the limelight. He’s just as humble as any man you’ll ever meet.”
The idea for a book was first floated by Bill MacKendrick, a former board member of the P.E.I. Sports Hall of Fame, to publisher Larry Resnitzky. Sports administrator Jeremy Pierce also inquired with Resnitzky, who saw the potential but knew it had to be done right and was going to take a substantial amount of money.
“Forbie deserves the best,” Resnitzky said.
He approached MacLean with the idea. The words were barely out of Resnitzky’s mouth when MacLean asked how much would be needed for such a project?
“ ‘We’ll get it done. Let’s start with a banquet’,” Resnitzky told the crowd Wednesday was MacLean’s response. “This is the banquet Ron MacLean suggested.”
The publisher reached out to the business community and sponsors quickly came on board.
“They all love Forbie – that’s the bottom line,” he said.
Title – "Forbie"
The Origins – Bill MacKendrick first approached publisher Larry Resnitzky about doing a book. Jeremy Pierce also planted the seed with Resnitzky for the need to chronicle Kennedy’s many stories. Pierce was the book and banquet committee manager.
The Author – Gary MacDougall. The Tyne Valley native and Cornwall resident is the retired managing editor of The Guardian.
Available – The 234-page soft cover book is available to pre-order online at retromedia.ca. Beginning Dec. 1, the book will be for sale at the Bookmark, Indigo and Beaconsfield Historic House in Charlottetown, Coles in Summerside and Tim Hortons restaurants across P.E.I. The book retails for $34.95.
Sponsors – Title sponsor Tim Hortons on P.E.I. Island Coastal Services, Saltwire, Reliable Motors, Curran & Briggs, Metro Home Building Centre and Summerside Toyota.
Resnitzky said Ron Hynes was known as a man of a thousand songs, and “Forbie Kennedy is a man of a thousand stories”. Many of them are in the book, which was written by Gary MacDougall, the retired managing editor of The Guardian, and published by Retromedia Publishing.
MacDougall followed Kennedy’s career while growing up in Tyne Valley. His first experience with Kennedy was an up-close and personal one at old Cahill Stadium in Summerside.
MacDougall, who was covering junior hockey for The Guardian, and the Journal Pioneer’s Bill Semple were in their regular spots, watching the game from the penalty box.
Kennedy was coaching the Summerside Crystals when one of the Charlottetown players was getting on Kennedy’s nerves for banging and slamming his players. The Charlottetown player was eventually penalized for his actions, but that wasn’t the end of it.
“Forbie comes rushing over, and he’s screaming and hollering at the guy, shouting over our heads. The guy they called the penalty on, he’s giving it back to Forbie,” MacDougall recalled. “The Journal Pioneer reporter and I were both sitting there being very quiet and hoping we survived the game.”
A lot of ink has been spilled over Kennedy, which could make writing a book a daunting task, but MacDougall said he was surprised how much he didn’t know about the iconic Island character.
And as anyone who knows Kennedy can attest, he’s a pretty blunt person. There’s no grey. It’s black and white. He also acknowledged he would have liked to do some things differently during his career, which included a four-game suspension for pushing an official during a dustup in 1969 where the Toronto Maple Leafs forward fought pretty well all of the Boston Bruins players on the ice and even took some shots from a fan. It was Kennedy’s final NHL game.
"Forbie was a tremendous guy to interview,” said MacDougall, noting Kennedy is a true storyteller. “He’s very honest.”
Kennedy played 11 seasons in the NHL while his wife, Marie, was home raising the four children.
“She should have got a medal,” Kennedy said, noting the close ages of the youngsters. “One was out of the crib walking and (another) was still in the crib.”
Kennedy’s career was cut short by a botched knee operation, leaving the 34-year-old with a Grade 8 education and a family to support.
He soon got into coaching, and his passion for the sport was funnelled into helping the next generations while working for the City of Charlottetown. He coached teams from tip to tip.
“I had good teachers,” he said, with guys like Johnny Squarebriggs, Art Perry, Charlie Ryan and Bill Murphy. “Those guys gave everything they had, so why shouldn't I do the same.”
A series of videos was played during Wednesday’s banquet from people who couldn’t be at the launch in person. The list included the likes of Brad Richards, Rick Bowness, Mike Kelly, Gerard (Turk) Gallant and Doug MacLean, who called Kennedy a role model.
“He was the trailblazer that helped a lot of P.E.I. players, coaches get to the NHL,” said MacLean, a former NHL general manager and head coach, who is now a Hockey Central analyst with Sportsnet.
MacLean said he has been asked about the pressure of coaching in the NHL.
His response: “There’s no more pressure coaching in the NHL than coaching against Forbes Kennedy.”
MacDougall started writing the book in the spring. He hopes it becomes required reading for his four grandchildren and others throughout the region.
“They’ll see what happens when you don't quit, when you try your hardest, when you take breaks that come your way, when you take challenges that come your way and you fight through them. And you do everything you can in life with passion.”