Hershey Bliss F Gene Kennedy is one of the few SHL players who has yet to see any ice time this season. Tired of waiting for a chance to skate, Kennedy decided to make his own opportunity in an unorthodox manner that raised some eyebrows in the Bliss clubhouse and around the league.
Between the first and second periods of Tuesday’s game against the Washington Galaxy at the Chocolate Center, the Bliss held their usual “Pee Wee Playtime” game. The game is a scrimmage between two team of local youth hockey players, who relish the opportunity to spend a few minutes on the same ice and shooting at the same nets as their heroes.
Observers quickly noticed that one of the players seemed a little different than the rest. It was Kennedy, who had decided to join the youngsters for their scrimmage. At 6-foot-2, the 25-year-old Kennedy didn’t exactly blend in with the 7-to-8-year-olds who made up the rest of the players.
“He just came out of nowhere,” said Bliss PA announcer Steve Leadbetter, who posted pictures and narratives of the scene on his Twitter account. “At first, the kids were just doing their regular thing. Then all of a sudden, Kennedy just came out from the Zamboni tunnel and just started skating with them. Nobody was really sure what to make of it.”
“I was just trying to get my work in,” Kennedy explained after the game. “I mean, you’ve got to stay sharp. Skating in practice is okay, but I really need to get some work in at game speed. Practice isn’t the same. And from what I could tell, this was my best opportunity to get some ice time in-game.”
With a significant speed and size advantage over his fellow players, Kennedy dominated the scrimmage. He had no trouble skating by the pee wee players, muscling them off the puck on occasion. Shooting at both nets, the reserve forward scored 3 goals.
At first, the fans assumed it was a deliberate joke, and reacted to Kennedy’s antics with laughter and cheers. But as play continued and Kennedy hip-checked 7-year-old Jaylen Crossley and sent the young man sprawling to the boards, the cheers turned to boos. At that point the Bliss mascot, Nibs, corraled Kennedy and ushered him off the ice.
“I felt bad about that,” Kennedy said of the check on Crossley. “Totally unintentional. I didn’t see him, but I felt him bump up against me.” The winger signed his jersey and gave it to Crossley to make up for it.
Asked about Kennedy’s stunt, Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber quipped, “Well, I didn’t see it. How did he look out there?” The coach then added, “Look, I understand Gene’s frustrated about not getting to play. But all out forwards have been playing great. Who do you sit?”
Kennedy’s teammates were more critical of his actions. “It’s pretty unprofessional, if you ask me,” said Bliss C Henry Constantine. “You’re not happy ’cause you’re not playing, fine. Take it up with the coach. Don’t show up your team and run the kids’ fun. I know Gene’s kind of flaky, but there’s a limit.”
Barber said that he does not plan to discipline Kennedy for the incident, and he will look to get Kennedy some playing time. “I’m doing it for the kids,” the coach joked. “I’m trying to protect them from Gene.”