Keith enjoying winning season with Blackhawks
Life is so good for Chicago Blackhawks’ defenceman Duncan Keith that the first major injury of his NHL career hasn’t even dampened his spirits.
The former Fort Frances resident is having a career year on one of the top teams in the NHL this season—despite a recent four-game layoff with a concussion—and is part of the reason hockey has been reborn in the Windy City.
“Every seat is filled right to the top [at the United Center], and I think we have the biggest arena in the league, seats 22,000, and there’s people standing in the back, too, so it’s pretty cool,” he added.
“You get noticed a lot more around town,” he noted. “With Chicago being such a big city, you don’t really expect that, but it just goes to show the city is behind us.”
Keith, who got his start in the Fort Frances Minor Hockey Association, once again is among the league leaders in ice time (averaging more than 25 minutes a game) and plus/minus (+23).
But most impressive, he had a scorching 16 points in his last 17 games prior to suffering a concussion on a hit from Buffalo Sabres’ Drew Stafford on Jan. 14 which has sidelined him ever since.
“I’m feeling better,” said Keith, who previously had missed just one of the Hawks’ last 287 games—and that was in his rookie season in 2005-06.
“I got cleared to play [Jan. 21] during the game [against St. Louis], had a test done,” he noted. “I’ve had enough of a break, so I’m ready to get going now, but I think these extra few days [during the all-star break] will be good for me, too,” he added.
“I’ve had injuries, but none that I’ve had to miss games for before.”
Keith will be back in the lineup when Chicago resumes action tonight against the Anaheim Ducks. The Hawks went 1-3 in his absence, obviously reinforcing his importance to the team.
Best known for his defensive prowess, the 25-year-old already has five goals and 21 assists this season—just six points shy of his career-best total from a season ago with 37 regular-season games still to play.
“I think a lot of it is we have a better team and are well-balanced, there’s more scoring throughout the whole team,” Keith remarked. “I have another year under my belt and a little more confidence in my offensive game now, too.”
Chicago currently sits fourth in the Western Conference standings with a 25-12-8 record—five points ahead of the fifth-place Phoenix Coyotes with three games in hand.
“It’s nice to see where we are in the standings right now, but we know there’s a long way to go,” Keith stressed. “It’s been a bit of a rough stretch here lately, but I definitely think we have the team that can make the playoffs, for sure, and I think it would be a big disappointment if we didn’t.”
After starting the season 1-3, the Hawks fired head coach Denis Savard and replaced him with Joel Quenneville. The move didn’t pay immediate dividends, but Quenneville has since put his stamp on the team and has them playing an exciting brand of hockey night in and night out.
“He’s come in and did a great job with our team,” Keith said of the veteran coach who previously spent time behind the bench with both the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche.
“He’s been a calming influence,” he added. “We have a young team, and that experience he brings to us is invaluable.
“He’s been really even-keeled the whole year, and I think that’s helped us play our best every night, for the most part, and never get too up or too down.”
The turnaround included a stretch of nine-straight wins in December, which Keith said was a special run to be a part of.
“It was awesome. We have a lot a guys who live in western Canada and part of that winning streak was on a western Canadian swing,” he recalled.
“I just remember being out there, and all the friends and family watching, and the guys in the room were really excited, having a good time, and as a young bunch of guys winning and playing in the NHL, we felt like we were on top of the world.”
Another highlight of Keith’s season was the New Year’s Day “Winter Classic” at Wrigley Field, where the Hawks hosted the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
“Just to be able to play at Wrigley Field, with the atmosphere that comes with that, was a pretty cool feeling,” Keith enthused. “It was nice to have my family [father, Dave, mother, Jean, brother, Cameron, and sister, Rebecca] and friends down for it.”
Keith is no stranger to outdoor games, having played in the “Cold War” in 2001 when his Michigan State University team faced off with the University of Michigan in front of nearly 75,000 fans at Spartan Stadium.
Keith scored in both games—and said his experience on outdoor rinks growing up surely played a part.
“I think it has to do with being on those outdoor rinks back in Fort growing up,” he lauded. “I guess I’m used to the cold weather and the wind blowing in my face.”