College Hockey:
Army mourns loss of former player, officer representative Kennedy

'The sky was the limit' for Maj. Tom Kennedy, who was killed in action in Afghanistan.

Before Tom Kennedy had much of a chance to use his hockey skills to make an impression on the recruiter, he gave that observer all he needed to know with a gesture of compassion and maturity.

Then an Army assistant coach, Brian Riley was on a trip to see Kennedy play for the Salisbury School of Connecticut in the mid-1990s when the game was halted for about an hour because of a major injury.

The injured Salisbury player was on the ice, being tended to by the team coach and athletic trainer.

And there was Kennedy, unwilling to leave his teammate’s side.

“I remember thinking, wow, I don’t know what kind of player this guy is because I haven’t had a chance to see him play,” said Riley, now Army’s head coach, “but there’s something special about him.”

That feeling carried through to Kennedy’s playing career as a Black Knights defenseman through his graduation in 2000 and in the last four years as the hockey program’s officer representative.

It made the dreadful message Riley received late Wednesday so much more hard to digest.

Kennedy was killed in action in Afghanistan on Wednesday, the victim of what NBC News reported was a suicide bomb attack on Army leaders on their way to a meeting with Afghani officials.

An Army major, Kennedy, 35, was married with two young twins.

He had been deployed in Afghanistan for only about two weeks, Riley said, after leaving West Point to be stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado.

Kennedy was the hockey program’s officer representative, serving as the liaison to the academy Superintendent. He stood behind the bench with Riley during games, traveled with the team and acted as a mentor to the players, creating close bonds.

“He was always there for them — for anybody in the West Point community. That’s why it’s hit the West Point community so hard,” Riley said. “He was so well liked and he touched so many different people at West Point; not just the hockey family but the whole West Point community.”

It’s not hard to see that Kennedy left quite an impression on Riley, especially in recent years. Coaches love to see their former players do big things in life, and Kennedy was obliging.

He was the Commandant’s executive officer. He was a tactical officer. He was the president of the Army Hockey Association.

People kept piling things on Kennedy’s plate; it never seemed to faze him.

One of the final conversations between Riley and Kennedy took place after this year’s West Point graduation.

As he walked off the graduation field, looking at the houses where high-ranking academy officials live, Riley turned to Kennedy.

“I said, you know what, TK? The next time you come back to West Point, you could be in one of those houses, either the Superintendent or the Commandant,” Riley said. “He kind of chuckled, but I really think he could have been. He was doing great things in the Army. He was so well respected by everybody. I really think the sky was the limit for him.”

Services for Kennedy are tentatively scheduled for West Point next week, Riley said. A wake is planned for Thursday with the funeral Friday.

Riley has experience dealing with the loss of a former player. 1st Lt. Derek Hines was killed in action in 2005, just two years after completing his four-year Army playing career.

Nothing comes easy in the days following such a tragedy, but perspective can be an exception.

“All of us — coaches, players, fans — we sometimes get caught up in our own little world and when something like this happens hopefully it gives everyone an opportunity to step back and realize that what we have is great, but there are certainly more important things,” Riley said.

“If people would just every day stop and think about the men and women who serve our country and are willing to put our lives on the line so we can enjoy the great game of hockey that we all love …”

Riley’s voice trailed off. “It’s just really, really hard.”

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  • UNHcatsfan

    This is very sad news. It is people like Major Kennedy who made the world a better place by simply being a part of it. Major Kennedy and his loved ones sacrifice so much for the benefit of the rest of us and all too often pay the ultimate price. Pray for the safety of all who serve for our benefit and never miss an opportunity to thank a member of the armed forces for his or her service when you encounter one. God bless Major Kennedy and his family.

  • superglide

    I wish I could have met this man . Someone so unselfish to put his accomplishments ,his life on hold, so the rest of us could pursue ours. Thank you to him , my thoughts with the family. And thanks to all service personell.

  • EliBlue

    May I propose a new trophy alongside the Hobey Baker Award? The Major Tom Kennedy Award to the player who best represents the spirit of college hockey through dedication, hard work and sportsmanship? Major Kennedy thank you so much for your service. You are a hero and role model and god bless the Kennedy family. I am hopeful that the ECAC and all conferences will wear a patch for him this season. I’ll think of you at the Yale home games during the National Anthem

  • DJ M&C

    It is people like Major Thomas Kennedy and the sacrifices they have made over the centuries that made America great and has kept her there. My condolences to his wife and sons and my gratitude to his parents for raising such a wonderul young man who was willing to sacrifice it all for his country and all who live here.

  • Joseph Crowley

    Thank you for your service and sacrifice, Major Kennedy.

    Our thoughts go to his family.

  • Hockey Fan

    The young man went to the same high school I attended.

  • Fan Man

    Very sad day today.. The Country and hockey community lost a great player and better yet, a great man, husband, father, and son. My prayers are with Kennedy family. God Bless

  • PBurkevt

    I am the cousin of Tommy Kennedy, his two brothers and I grew up running around the rinks of NY and New England, we later all played college hockey. Our family is heartbroken by this, yet the love and support of many from Tommy’s youth hockey, Don Bosco, Salisbury and USMA community has helped. I will make sure the comments below are shared with my Aunt and Uncle and Tommy’s brothers. The USCHO article well represents the fact that they sky was the limit for TK. He could have done anything, but the Army and his family were his life.

    A good man never dies–
    In worthy deed and prayer
    And helpful hands, and honest eyes,
    If smiles or tears be there:
    Who lives for you and me–
    Lives for the world he tries
    To help–he lives eternally.
    A good man never dies.

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