August 21, 2013

Ralph Keller: Puck Stylist Turned Hair Stylist But Faced Demons


On the cover of the above November, 1959 Hockey Review magazine is Ralph Keller. He was playing for the Vancouver Canucks at the time. This predated the Canucks arrival in the NHL, of course. They were playing in the old professional Western Hockey League at this time.

Keller, who starred in Saskatoon and Prince Albert in his native Saskatchewan would play seasons in Vancouver. He would later play a few games with the New York Rangers (the defenseman even scored a goal) and would best be known for his long tenure and two Calder Cup championships with the Hershey Bears of the AHL. He was an offensive defenseman who play with a bit of reckless abandon. Old Bears fans still remember him, Willie Marshall and Bruce Kline.

Unfortunately not all of Ralph Keller's story is so happy.

"I had a different life," he told the Central PA Patriot News in 2011.

A 5 inch separation of his left shoulder finally forced him off the ice after 22 seasons in pro hockey. Thankfully he already had a job, though it was hardly the kind of career choice of most former pro hockey players.

Keller chose beauty school and became a women's hairstylist.

“We used to cut each other’s hair in Wilkie,” Keller says. “I wanted to go to barber school, but my wife said, ‘Why don’t you get into women’s hair? There’s more money in that. I thought, I’ve got four kids at home and no way to feed them. I took her suggestion.”

He opened his own salon - Raphael's - while playing the final seven seasons of his career. He loved both jobs.

“Just the fact that you could change somebody’s appearance,” Keller says. “To have them walk in your salon, looking like an 80-year-old woman and send them out looking like they’re 45. There’s a lot of satisfaction in a profession like that.”

Keller, then 73, ran the salon until 2009. That's when the rest of us learned what his family known for years.

Hockey players and alcohol mix easily, perhaps too easily for some. Keller drank a lot. It was hard on his wife, who left him and returned to Canada, and his four kids.

In 2009 Keller was arrested four times for Driving Under the Influence, including three times in a month. He was sent to jail and spent a significant amount of time under house arrest.

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