Never the fastest or smoothest of skaters, Ted "Teeder" Kennedy became a remarkable leader with an infectious combination of determination and confidence. Known as one of the game's great faceoff men and an antagonistic forechecker, Kennedy had the ability to score the important goal, to make the right check at the right time - to do all the little things that win big games and championships, which his Toronto Maple Leafs did on a regular basis.
In 1941 Kennedy attended the Montreal Canadiens' training camp as a 16-year-old, but he was so homesick that he left early. A year later, the Toronto Maple Leafs' Frank Selke, the interim manager of the team during owner Conn Smythe's service in the Second World War, acquired Kennedy's rights from Montreal in a trade for Frank Eddolls. When Smythe returned, he was furious that the deal had been made without his having been consulted, and this disagreement between Smythe and Selke was one of the factors in Selke's decision to move to Montreal in 1946. Smythe, however, would later call Kennedy one of his favorite players, praising him as the "greatest competitor in hockey."
Kennedy joined the Leafs on a full-time basis in 1943-44. The next season he was the team's top point-getter and the overall goal-scoring leader in the playoffs as the Leafs surprised the Montreal Canadiens by winning the Stanley Cup. Beginning in 1946, Kennedy was placed on a line with Howie Meeker and Vic Lynn. Known as the Kid Line II, after the famous Toronto line of the 1930s, and later as the KLM Line, they paced the Leafs to three consecutive Stanley Cup championships, 1947 to '49. For the last in the string, in 1948-1949, Kennedy was the captain, having succeeded Syl Apps the previous fall.
In the 1949-50 semifinals, the Leafs met the Detroit Red Wings, a team they had beaten easily in the two previous playoffs. Toronto was leading 3-0 in the first game when the Wings' developing superstar, Gordie Howe, sustained a serious head injury attempting to check Kennedy. Howe was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery to reduce the pressure on his brain. He recovered but didn't play again that season. Jack Adams, the Detroit general manager, claimed Kennedy had intentionally injured Howe on the play.
Toronto did win the game, but Detroit was an angry team in the next game of the series. They vented their anger on Kennedy and the Leafs in a fight-filled win. Detroit went on to capture the series in seven games and then the Stanley Cup over the New York Rangers. Kennedy maintained that the controversy around Howe's injury inspired the Wings and cost his team a chance at five consecutive Stanley Cup wins. The Leafs came back the next year to win the championship, making it four titles in five years.
Kennedy would win four Cups as a Maple Leaf, but individual honours for the Leafs' captain were few and far between. Three times he was selected to the NHL's Second All-Star Team, but Toronto fans and management believed he deserved more recognition in the year-end major awards. In 1953 Conn Smythe created an award expressly for Kennedy, the J.P. Bickell Trophy, which was given to the most valuable Maple Leaf.
Ironically, Kennedy would also win the Bickell in the one year he didn't need to, 1955, when he was finally given the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. Kennedy retired after that season, saying he still loved the game but his legs were through with it. He did return briefly in January of 1956, playing for 30 games when the Leafs were short-manned due to injuries.
In close games or behind a goal or two, Toronto fans knew their team had a chance if Kennedy could engineer a comeback with a timely goal or faceoff win. One fan in particular, John Arnott, attempted to lift Kennedy and the team with a call from the rafters that became part of the club's history. A quiet man until he entered the usually staid Maple Leaf Gardens, Arnott would cup his hands together and shout, "Come o-n-n-n-n Teeder!" from his seat high above the ice. It was a rallying cry that would ring out even after Kennedy retired from the game, though it grew sadder as the realization sank in that Teeder wouldn't be returning to save the home team.