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When Kenndal McArdle was a little boy, he dreamed about playing hockey for his country. His family and friends will get to watch his dream come true when the World Juniors begin on Boxing Day.
Ian Walker, Vancouver Sun
Published: Saturday, December 23, 2006

Kenndal McArdle doesn't want your sympathy. Nor does his mother, Leilani McArdle.

That story's been done to death, they both say.

You know the one. Single mom scrimps and saves just to put food on the table each night, never mind second-hand skates on her child's feet. Boy defies the odds, goes on to be a top hockey prospect and is forced to leave home at an early age. Mom's home alone, phone calls and press clippings her only contact with her youngest child for eight months of the year.

And you know what? They're right. The McArdle story does deserve better than that. So do they.

What the McArdles want is for their story to inspire others. Just like others have inspired them.

So as the two spend their first Christmas apart -- Leilani here in Vancouver where she works as a civil servant with the B.C. Liquor Board; Kenndal in Sweden where he'll represent his country at the World Junior Hockey Championships -- this is their message of goodwill to all.

It had been a while since Leilani McArdle had last walked through the front doors of the Burnaby Winter Club, but not long enough for her to forget the exact spot along the reinforced glass where she'd spent so many a chilly morning watching her son grow up.

Memories flood her mind as she sits staring at the clean sheet of ice before her.

The one that sticks out the most? Kenndal's first practice after moving to the decorated BWC from the Burnaby minor hockey association.

"His coach at the time, Steve Bradford, was teaching the kids the basics of skate edges -- nothing flashy, just the basics of skating," she recalls, her left hand lodged under her chin, propping up her head.

"It's the first real elite coaching he had. Over and over Steve would skate them and just the look on Kenndal's face ... he was just so happy.

"It's not that I don't appreciate the time and effort his minor hockey coaches put in -- because I do -- but he'd been through three coaches in one year in Burnaby minor the season before and if we didn't make the move he was going to quit. He just wanted to learn and get better and I couldn't afford the camps the other kids were getting. I remember Kenndal telling me if he couldn't skate the way he needed to skate, he wasn't going to continue."

If there's one thing Kenndal loves more than hockey, it's his mom. While the 19-year-old Vancouver Giant winger is quick to pass on thanks to all the coaches, parents and teammates who helped him along his path, he makes it clear that it's Leilani who deserves most of the credit.

"I don't think anyone can do anything by themselves, whether in sport or life," says Kenndal, who was selected in the first round of the 2005 National Hockey League entry draft by the Florida Panthers. "There's lots of people who have helped me along the way, but my mom is a huge part. If not for her I wouldn't be here in Europe, talking to you today.

"I still remember waking up for practice as a kid to the smell of her baking cinnamon buns. Not for me, but to sell to the parents at practice so she could pay for me to be there. She's been a huge help and that's something I will never forget."

It pains him to know his mother won't be there with him when he wakes up on Christmas Day. The expense of the flight, accommodation and time off work made that impossible.

Even more upsetting, says the 19-year-old winger, is the knowledge that Leilani will have to watch most of Canada's games on video or tape delay due to her mid-afternoon start time.

Kenndal -- who spent his first 31/2 WHL seasons in Moose Jaw before a mid-December trade brought him home -- can count on his hands the number of times his mom has seen him play live over the past four years.

"Family is a really big part of my life," he says via cellphone from Finland, where Canada opened its world junior schedule earlier this week. "This is my first Christmas away from home, so it's going to be a bittersweet moment in that regard. But this was one of my goals and dreams to play for my country with and against the best players in the world at this age.

"It would be great for my mom to experience this with me, but I take comfort in knowing she'll be rooting me on."

Kenndal McArdle's pursuit of perfection was a trait he inherited from his West Indian father at an early age.

It started with learning to ride a bike at age three and reared it's head again when he strapped on his first pair of blades at six. It hasn't stopped since.

"I remember us giving him his bike at 10 in the morning and he didn't get off until after 5 that night and he could ride it by himself," says Leilani.

"It was the same thing with skating. I took him to a public skate at Britannia and for six or seven hours he was out there."

Born in Toronto, Kenndal moved with his mother to Burnaby at age four, when his parents split. Five years later, his step-brother Aaron -- then 15 and the closest thing to a father figure he had -- died in a car crash. It was devastating for the nine-year-old, who despite the age difference was incredibly close to his brother. One of Kenndal's fondest memories is playing minor hockey with Aaron, whose passing may have fuelled Kenndal's fierce determination to succeed.

"For one, Aaron's death taught Kenndal at a young age to not take things for granted," says Leilani. "I think Aaron's death is also a big part of Kenndal's drive. He's told me before that Aaron's with him. Hockey is a very good memory of his brother and makes him feel good.

"Hockey brings back good memories of playing with Aaron, and he often feels that Aaron is out there with him -- as his own invisible cheerleader."

Playing for Team Canada adds to Kenndal's already lengthy list of career honours.

In early 2005, he was chosen as the top player at the Canadian Hockey League's Top Prospects game held in Vancouver and was the WHL Eastern Conference's nominee for scholastic player of the year. A few months later, the Panthers traded up nine spots in the draft to select the 6-foot, 200-pounder 20th overall.

Florida's director of amateur scouting, Scott Luce, said there were many reasons he and his staff found McArdle so attractive. He's tough-nosed and skilled, with speed to burn. Still, it was the intangibles that sold Luce on putting his reputation on the line.

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