Keith proud to be wearing Maple Leaf logo
Duncan Keith has come a long way from earning his stripes as a member of the Times Tiger growing up here in Fort Frances.
Since then, several logos have graced his chest, including the Maple Leaf, which he’ll be wearing proudly on hockey’s biggest international stage next month in Vancouver.
“Kevin Lowe gave me a call about an hour before they made the announcement,” Keith recalled last week.
“It was getting closer to the announcement there, so I was thinking about it a little bit, but it was nice to get the call from Kevin Lowe and I’m pretty excited about it all,” he added.
Given the Winter Olympics are not always held in countries with deep hockey talent (most recently Nagano, Japan in 1998 and Torino, Italy in 2006), Keith realizes he has the chance many of his NHL brethren will not: to win a gold medal on home soil.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in the Olympics in Canada, in Vancouver, and now it’s pretty special for me and all my family and all my friends,” he enthused.
“We’re all going to enjoy it.”
The 6’1”, 194-pound blueliner admitted he hadn’t spoken to head coach Mike Babcock about was his role on the team will be, but will find out closer to when the first puck is dropped.
“We haven’t talked to any of the coaches yet, but I’m sure as things get closer, and especially once we get to Vancouver, we’ll get things like that sorted out,” he reasoned.
The match-up Keith was most looking forward to was the Russians, whose snipers in Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Ovechkin, and Evgeni Malkin will be a formidable challenge for any defensive pairing to face.
“Obviously, the Russians have a lot of skill on their team, and when we’re playing some of their players in the NHL here, it’s always a challenge and it’s exciting,” he remarked.
“And now not only the Russians, but the Swedes, they’re the defending champs.
“And the U.S. with Patrick Kane, my teammate here in Chicago, so there’s a lot of teams that are going to be challenges to play against that I’m looking forward to,” he noted.
Keith moved to Penticton, B.C., about four hours from Vancouver, at age 14, where his family still resides. Even with the family cheering him on, Keith felt the pressure will be no greater than playing a league game at GM Place.
“I’m sure they’ll be all out watching, but it’s no different than playing in Vancouver against the Canucks, or Calgary or Edmonton,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of family there and I’m used to playing in front of my family.
“At the same time, when you’re playing in a big game or an exciting game, you’re focused on what’s going on, and what you have to do,” he stressed.
“I’ve been playing in front of my mom and dad my entire life, so it’s not really a big deal.”
Keith is just one Canadian Olympian with Northwestern Ontario connections. Thunder Bay’s Eric Staal, Dryden’s Chris Pronger, and Kenora’s Mike Richards all made the cut, as well.
Even though Keith, Staal, and Richards all were born within two years of each other, Keith said they never faced off against each other in minor hockey. But that doesn’t mean their families weren’t interconnected before the NHL spotlight hit.
“I remember going to tournaments in Thunder Bay, Kenora, or Dryden,” recalled Keith. “It’s a great little hockey area in Northwestern Ontario, and I think there’ll be more kids coming up . . . through the rankings in that area.
“My brother was involved, and Mike Richards’ cousin, Jeff Richards, played with him,” Keith noted. “I played with Eric Staal’s cousin, Ian, so there’s lots of hockey and lots of hockey players around there.
“Unfortunately, I was in a different age group from Mike and Eric, so I didn’t get to play against them.”
The Olympic selection capped off an exciting year for Keith, who made the playoffs for the first time last season, advancing to the Western Conference final with Chicago.
Then on Dec. 3, Keith signed a 13-year, $72-million contract extension, while Jonathan Toews and Kane each signed for five years, to keep the team’s nucleus in tact.
This season, the Blackhawks are challenging for the NHL’s best record, and Keith has been mentioned as a Norris Trophy candidate as the league’s top defenceman.
“I don’t really pay attention much to what people say, or what the word is,” Keith maintained. “I’m excited to be here with the team we have. It’s fun coming here every day.
“There are a lot of good ‘D’-men in the league, and there are a lot of good forwards and goalies in the league.
“The attitude that I need to take, and I have, is that you take it one day at a time, one game at a time, and realize that it’s a long season here,” Keith remarked.
“You’ve got to get your rest and be rested for every game, and if you worry about moreso the process of playing good, then all the other things at the end of the day take care of themselves,” he added.