Forbes Kennedy

Forbes Kennedy suited up for 13 regular season games and one playoff game as a Toronto Maple Leaf. But a lot can happen in 14 hockey games!

Forbes Kennedy: "Punching Records"

Forbes Kennedy was known as one of the toughest players in the NHL. He never ran from trouble. His final game in the NHL set three separate penalty-related records. And he did it all in one playoff game as a Toronto Maple Leaf. 

These records have since been surpassed but for the record he was assessed 48 minutes in penalties. This was the record for the most time in the penalty box in one game. The six penalties were the most ever given to one player; and the 34 minutes meted out to him in one period was also a record.

Forbes Kennedy was born in Dorchester, New Brunswick on August 18, 1935, but his family moved to Prince Edward Island when he was youngster. Forbes grew up playing hockey in the Charlottetown area. Surprisingly, his interest in hockey did not begin at an early age. He did not even learn to skate until his was eleven years old! 

Once he started playing hockey Forbes became a dominant player in the leagues in which he played. During the 1951-52 hockey season with the Charlottetown Abbies of the Prince Edward Island Hockey Association, Kennedy led the league with 16 goals and total points with 24 in just 6 games. But, like most talented young hockey players, he soon out grew the local competition. He was forced to leave home to continue following his dream of playing professional hockey.

His quest for a pro hockey career took him next to the Halifax St. Mary’s junior club for the 1952-53 season. Once again, he was a prolific scorer, notching 32 goals and 22 assists in 36 games. In the national championships that year did his best to help his club, scoring 12 goals in 12 games.  

Kennedy’s goal scoring prowess drew the attention of the Montreal Junior Canadiens, and once again he found himself moving further away from home. 

The Quebec Junior Hockey League proved to be a stronger league defensively, and Kennedy’s goal production diminished somewhat from the high totals that he had accumulated in the Maritimes. But one statistic – his penalty minutes – dramatically increased. In the 1954-55 campaign his 118 penalty minutes were almost three times his penalty total from the previous season.

At the end of the 1956 season, the Canadiens organization dealt Forbes to the Chicago Black Hawks. Because of their relatively weak roster, the feisty Kennedy’s hard-nosed approach to the game earned him a spot on the Black Hawks roster right out of junior hockey. In the era of the six-team National Hockey League, this was an impressive feat!

Kennedy played 69 games for the Hawks in the 1956-57. His scoring statistics, 8 goals and adding 13 assists, were considered average for a third- or fourth-line player during this era. But where he left his mark was in the penalty box, spending 102 minutes in the sin bin.

In the summer of 1957, the Detroit Red Wings acquired Kennedy in a multi-player trade that involved future Hall of Fame players Glenn Hall and Ted Lindsay heading to Chicago. 

Playing in the Motor City Kennedy’s goal scoring production did not increase, but his trips to the penalty box did! He cooled his heels in the box for 135 minutes in the 1957-58 season. His reputation as a “bad boy” continued to grow larger after an incident during a game January 30, 1958 against the Montreal Canadiens. He received $100.00 fine from the League for pushing a linesman.  

Forbes continued to play in Detroit for another season and a half. While his goal totals diminished, his penalty minutes increased. Finally, probably because of his antics on the ice that often left the Red Wings killing off a lot of penalties, Kennedy was sent to the minor leagues.

During the 1960-61 season, Kennedy set a dubious league record in the Western Hockey League. While playing for the Spokane Comets, he amassed a total of 10 major penalties over the course of the season.

In 1962, Kennedy was on the move again, this time having been traded to the Boston Bruins. His 49 games with the Bruins in 1962-63 gave him his best season in terms of scoring, with 12 goals, and his penalty minutes dropped dramatically.  

For the next three seasons that Forbes Kennedy played in Boston, he scored less than ten goals each year and he earned significantly fewer penalty minutes than he had in his earlier days in the league. One notable incident took place in a game on October 29, 1965 when the National Hockey League levied a fine of $175.00 on him for his actions. This amount may seem paltry compared to the fines handed out today in professional sports, but in the 1960s it was a severe punishment that was meant to act as a serious deterrent.

In 1966, Kennedy was loaned to the San Francisco Seals of the Western Hockey League. He remained on the west coast until the Philadelphia Flyers claimed him in the June 6, 1967 NHL Expansion Draft.       

In Philadelphia, Kennedy made a big impact on the “City of Brotherly Love”. In his second season with the Flyers he led the entire National Hockey League in penalties, with a league record 219 minutes. Although he scored only10 goals for Philadelphia, three of those markers were game-winners.  

In February 1969, with the Flyers struggling for a play-off spot, Kennedy fell out of favor with team management over his frequent penalties. But when they tried to send him to the minor leagues the veteran refused to report. The club suspended him. Jim Proudfoot, wrote in a March 5, 1969 Toronto Star article entitled “Forbes Kennedy a real swinger” that Kennedy told reporters, “I just thought there must be other teams in the NHL I could play for. I mean I’m 33. I won’t have that many seasons left.  I knew the trading deadline was coming up and it looked like something might happen.”  

Kennedy was right. Punch Imlach, the general manager and coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was looking for some added muscle for the playoffs. When the pugnacious Kennedy became available, on March 2, 1969 a trade was made.  

Forbes Kennedy played the last 13 games of the 1968-69 season, with the Toronto Maple Leafs. And it was in that year’s playoffs that he made his mark, establishing a reputation that would last a lifetime and prove fateful to the tempestuous Kennedy’s career.

On April 2, 1969, during a playoff game between the Leafs and one of his former teams, the Bruins, Kennedy made yet another addition to his resume. He had already served three minor penalties when Boston’s Ted Green cross-checked Kennedy. Never one to back down from a challenge, Forbes went after the Bruins’ rugged defenseman aggressively. For his efforts, Kennedy was assessed a two-minute minor, two five-minute fighting major penalties, a ten-minute misconduct penalty and a game misconduct penalty. His totals – 34 minutes in a single period and 38 penalty minutes in a game – were NHL records. His name also found its way into the league record books for most penalties in a game (8) and most penalties in a period (6).

He did not limit his physical actions to just the opposing players. Forbes was fined $1,000.00 and suspended for four games for hitting George Ashley, one of the linesmen officiating the game.

This proved to be Forbes Kennedy’s last game in the NHL. At the end of the season, Kennedy had surgery to remove cartilage from his right knee. His recovery was grueling and ultimately, disappointing. Following the surgery, he had difficulty simply walking, not to mention skating.

At the time of his trade to the Maple Leafs Kennedy described what he brought to his team to Jim Proudfoot of the Toronto Star:

“Listen,” Kennedy confided, “don’t expect me to score a lot of goals.  I’m not that kind of player. I got no moves. I just hustle. That’s all that counts. You can’t let up. Nobody can. Not even (Bobby) Hull. But when you’re a guy like me, you really have to work. And, as I say, bang away at people. When I get pushed.  I push back. It’s the only way.” 

Forbes Kennedy was a feisty hockey player. He was a good checking forward who earned his reputation by throwing his 5’8” frame into opposing players. Ironically, he had a reputation as one of the better penalty killers in the league. That is, when he wasn’t cooling his own skates in the penalty box!  

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Hockey history is full of surprises, amazing stories and athletes who never cease to surprise. It is more than just stories about the NHL, it is tales from the minor leagues, the bush leagues, and much more. And, it is not just a Canadian story.


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