You don’t do something that long unless you truly love it and have a passion for it.
For Ken Christiansen, all the long bus rides have been worth it to invest in the lives of young athletes.
“Keno,” as he is most commonly called, has been at the forefront of hockey his entire life as a player, coach, spectator, and a coaching mentor.
He honed his abilities as a defenceman as a youth in the Fort Frances Minor Hockey system. In high school, he transferred to International Falls to play for the Broncos as there was not yet a Muskie program.
After graduating from Falls High, Christiansen returned to Fort Frances to play for the Royals (junior) and the Canadians (intermediate).
Keno’s coaching career began as a young man and has totaled 55 years. In that time span, he has coached house league, ‘AA’, and most prominently, he has been with the Muskie program for 35 years.
He has a knack for reaching out and helping players with their game and personal life situations and the number of lives he has touched and supported through hockey–and being a caring individual–is enormous.
Christiansen will be inducted into this year’s Fort Frances Sports Hall of Fame class in the “builder” category.
“It is a great honour,” he said of learning he had been named an inductee into this year’s class.
“There’s a lot of good people on that and to be part of that is really something,” he enthused.
“I’m proud to be part of that and it is quite exciting.”
Christiansen noted that he got into coaching back in 1964 when his uncle Harold had asked him to help coach a Midget hockey team.
That stint helped to spark his interest and led to the coaching path the he is currently on today.
“That kind of got me interested in it and after that I coached with–what at the time was called Bantam ‘C’–they are real young kids,” he noted.
“They’d be like Atoms now. I started coaching a team of that and then Buddy Hebert told me to come and see him and that time he had started up what you call a ‘travelling team’–which would be the equivalent of a ‘AA’ team in PeeWee,” Christiansen explained.
“I got started in that and I coached that for quite a few years until I started and got into the high school with Jim Moser in 1971, and then I coached two years with him.”
From there, Christiansen said he kept on with coaching various teams.
“I coached little kids when my sons started, coached Bantam house teams and Midget house teams. Then in 1984, I got into [coaching] the Muskies with Terry Ogden and Glen Edwards and I’ve been there ever since, pretty well,” he noted.
“I missed one year, I’m not sure what year it was, around 1994 or something like that. I coached my son in Bantam league, eh? So I missed one year with the Muskies, but other than that it’s been about 35-36 years [with them].”
Christiansen has helped the Muskies achieve a lot of success over that time and has been a great mentor to countless players.
His coaching career has included seven OFSAA medals–bronze in 1971, silver in 1984 and 1985, along with gold in 1986, 1989, 2001, and 2016.
Christiansen also has had to endure many lengthy bus trips, including about 35 to Red Lake, Sioux Lookout, Dryden and Kenora.
How many trips to tournaments and OFSAA in eastern Ontario? How many hockey players has he coached in his 55-year career?
Some of those questions are very difficult to calculate or even estimate.
What is known, however, is the positive impact “Keno” has had with Fort Frances hockey. He is highly regarded by countless former players and his impact on Fort Frances hockey will be passed on for years to come.
What are some of the things he tried to instill in the players that he has coached and continues to coach?
“Just to be good people,” he replied.
“It isn’t just the hockey. It’s how to behave out in public, to be a good person, to work hard as a team. It’s all those little things.”
As he looks back on his coaching career so far, Christiansen said he has many things that he is proud of and a lot of favourite moments that he cherishes.
“My favourite moments–there’s a lot of them,” he reasoned.
“Of course, winning four [OFSAA] gold medals with the Muskies was great. I mean, to be the top high school team in the province is pretty good.
“Another [favourite memory] is when my son played for the Muskies,” he added.
“That was quite a moment, too, for me–to be coaching my son in the high school. My other son was one of the boys that started televising Muskie hockey, so those things meant a lot to me.
“I was very proud of that,” Christiansen enthused.
People ask “Keno” why he still coaches. Simply put, he still loves it–that’s why.
“I can’t tell ya, I just enjoy being around the boys,” he beamed. “I enjoy the teasing and being teased by them and it’s been great.
“I’ve really enjoyed it. I really couldn’t do it without my family behind me. My wife has been tremendous.
“I come home sometimes and things aren’t going to well and she always seems to know what to say to pick me up,” he lauded.
Unfortunately, Christiansen will likely be unable to attend next month’s Fort Frances Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet as he is having an operation at the end of July.
He had an aneurysm and has to have multiple operations performed on himself, with the first to come at the end of the month.
The second operation would likely be done a few weeks after that.
“I’m not gonna be able to make it, I’m really sorry about that,” he said solemnly.
“I got a couple of guys I’m gonna ask to accept the induction on my behalf.”
Christiansen also wanted to extend his appreciation to all of his fellow coaches over the years and lauded them for making his job so much fun.
Editor’s note: The Fort Frances Sports Hall of Fame will hold its third induction ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 10 at La Place Rendez-Vous. Tickets on sale now for $40 each at Taggs Source For Sports.
This is the fourth of a series profiling each of this year’s inductees.