February 25, 2009

The Man Who Can't Stop Skating

ESPN The Magazine takes a look at Mike Keane, the man who can't stop skating.

Lindsay Berra has an excellently written piece which tries to answer why is he still playing, and in the cold winters of Winnipeg to boot?
A smallish guy with a very big heart, Keane found a cozy niche in the NHL, logging 1,161 games over 16 seasons. He won his first Stanley Cup in 1993 with the Canadiens, won another with the Avalanche in 1996 and a third with the Stars in 1999, becoming one of only eight players in NHL history to win three Cups with three different teams. So he could have retired—no regrets, no questions asked—like Ron Francis and Mark Messier did after the NHL's lost 2004-05 season. He could have gone the coaching route, like former teammates Guy Carbonneau and Kirk Muller did with the Canadiens. Hanging up his skates made sense to everyone. Everyone but Mike Keane.
Here's the full story.

I always appreciated what Mike Keane brought to the ice. It was impossible not to. Like his peers mentioned above, he was a warrior, and a winner.

While he may have had the soul of a hockey warrior, Mike Keane was not given the tools to be a star. He was not much of a finisher, though he had underrated playmaking skills. And he was small, just 5'10" and 185lbs in an era where the big man reigned supreme.

Yet through smarts, desire and a ridiculously high threshold for pain he became one of the best role players of his era.

A natural leader, Keane set the example for his teammates with smart and disciplined physical play. Despite his size he was fantastic in the corners and along the boards, one of the best in the business. He fearlessly crashed and banged against bigger men, using his speed to maximize his aggressiveness. More often than not he would come out with puck. And he would never take bad penalties. He was the definition of a physical catalyst, and of a coach's dream.

Keane could be counted on in any situation. His speed and smarts complimented any line, though more often than not he was used on a checking line, famously with Brian Skrudland in Montreal, and later reunited in New York and Dallas. The two durable stars were relied on heavily to either shutdown the other team's top line or to energize their own team when need be. And of course they were penalty killers extraordinaire.

The fire to win, to compete, to play hockey still burns deep inside Mike Keane. And in this 2008-09 season where we've seen his former teammate Claude Lemieux come out of a 5 year retirement to skate again, I have to wonder if Keane could not help a NHL team here in the playoff stretch run and in the playoffs, even at the age of 42. This time of year teams are always looking for depth players, especially ones that have Stanley Cup championships already on their resume.

Yet he will remain in Winnipeg, his hometown where he is under AHL contract, and lead the Moose into the Calder Cup playoffs where they must be considered a threat to win it all. And Keane will play every shift just like every shift he played in the Stanley Cup playoffs - with intelligence, desire and great pride.

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