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A Christmas story: World Juniors

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers

Ian Walker/Vancouver Sun

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."

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