September 30, 2013

Keith McCreary

Keith McCreary played in the NHL for 8 years, but it took him 6 years of apprenticeship before he finally made it.

The 5'10" 180lb right winger from Sundridge, Ontario was property of the Montreal Canadiens from 1958. As you can imagine it was incredibly hard for any rookie to break into the 6 team league, but it was even harder for a Montreal prospect who was buried in their system's great depth. Keith spent 6 years in the minors. First with the EPHL's Hull-Ottawa Canadiens, and later in the AHL with the Hershey Bears and Cleveland Barons.

McCreary did get a chance to play for the Habs though. His first game came in the 1962 playoffs. Injuries forced the Habs to use the rookie against Chicago in a 2-1 loss. Later, in 1964-65, McCreary got another shot at making the Habs when he scored 3 assists in 9 regular season games.

In McCreary's last season in the minor leagues, he finished strongly with 28 goals and 57 points. This encouraged the Pittsburgh Penguins to select the right winger from the Habs in the first ever Expansion Draft. McCreary would go on to be a solid player for the expansion Pens, including scoring a career high 25 goals in 1968-69.

"If Keith was a step faster he'd get 30 or 40 goals every season in this expansion group," reasoned Pittsburgh's manager, Jack Riley. "But then if he had been a step faster he'd still be with the Canadiens."

Pittsburgh's coach turned director of player personnel, Red Sullivan was also quite enamoured with McCreary's play, especially his ability to protect the puck.

"I wish I had four more like him to patrol those wings," he said. "if we had, we would have won more games because that's where you win them, along the boards and in the corners. And Keith's not afraid to move near that goal crease and take whatever the defense hands out in order to screen a shot, take a goal-mouth pass, or try a tip-in of a shot from the point."

McCreary played five seasons with the Pens. However his last year was injury filled and he only mustered 4 goals and 8 points in 33 games. The Pens left him unprotected in another wave of free agency. This time the Atlanta Flames picked up the winger.

McCreary enjoyed three years in Atlanta, including a 21 goal campaign in 1972-73. He retired as a member of the Flames in 1975.

"I'm really not much of a scorer," Keith said, in a very unflattering way. "I'm not a nifty hockey player and I don't have a lot of finesse. I have to make up what I do with a lot of hard work. I've got to play my goal man and think a lot of checking. Goal scoring must be secondary.

"I know I could shoot more and I also know I could take my man more. But we play too many games in too short of a time to go out there and concentrate on the body all night. You have to pick your spots so you don't wear yourself out. And when you get the chance, you've got to take advantage of it.

In total, Keith McCreary played in 532 games and scored 131 goals to go along with his 112 assists for 243 points. He participated in 16 playoff contests over the years, but failed to pick up a goal, and had just 4 helpers.

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