Back in Canada after winning the Conn Smythe trophy and a third Stanley Cup, the indefatigable Duncan Keith finally felt his resistance wear down when he succumbed to a force that exposed a hidden weakness. Blame a culprit whose name you won’t find on an NHL roster but is well-known in hockey country.
“For a while I think all I had was Tim Hortons and ice cappuccinos and chocolate glazed doughnuts so I’m not going to sit here and pretend I eat healthy every day,” Keith told the Tribune in a phone interview from his home in British Columbia, where the restaurant chain thrives. “You need to be able to relax and have that break physically and mentally. It recharges you to get into the gym and go hard and carry that into the year.”
Nobody on the Hawks deserved to give himself a break more than Keith, the defenseman who logged more than 700 minutes in a postseason that cemented his legacy. While the hockey world marveled at the future Hall of Famer’s endurance, Keith mostly shrugged. He figured this was why he became a slave to nutrition and meticulously monitored his diet and exercise. He never looked as tired as everyone felt watching him.
Besides, since last summer, skating always has been the easy part for Keith no matter how many minutes he played as he found refuge in the rink. Any physical challenges paled in comparison with the emotional struggles Keith has endured since the separation from his wife, Kelly-Rae, a year ago. Intensely private, Keith decided to broach the personal issue publicly only now to help explain his absence from this weekend’s Blackhawks Convention. In short, dad duty called and Keith answered, opting to spend the weekend in Canada with 2-year-old son, Colton, who takes after his father in the energy department based on Keith’s proud description.
“Obviously, I’d really like to be there at the convention because I always enjoy meeting new fans and seeing old ones, so that’s a little frustrating not being able to celebrate with all of them,” Keith said. “But in my own situation, I am going through a divorce. I’ve been separated for over a year now. I think right now my time needs to be spent with my son and I’m doing everything I can to spend as much time with him and dealing with a lot going on right now. I hope everybody can respect that and our privacy. Kelly and I are doing our best to co-parent Colton and raise him in a loving environment whether he’s with her or with me. This is part of that.”
Part of being a Chicago sports celebrity of Keith’s ilk these days means the more the public loves him, the more fans want to know. The more they want to know, the less privacy Keith enjoys. That reality of the social-media age hit Keith hard at times last season, such as when salacious, unfounded rumors about his personal life and that of former teammate Patrick Sharp found their way onto gossip websites and talk-radio shows.
“I’m not going to lie: It has been a long year and extremely difficult,” Keith said. “I know there was a lot of talk throughout the year regarding Sharpie and that was all a complete fabrication as well. My divorce had nothing to do with anything except what was between me and Kelly-Rae, and that’s where I’d like to keep it.
“Hopefully people can respect that and give us our privacy to move forward and co-parent our son. … It’s obviously not the way I wanted things to be or drew them up. At the same time, you have to find a way to focus. For me, it usually was getting to the rink and turning the switch to hockey.”
Turning to hockey, Keith sighed when asked about all the changes since he and his Hawks teammates hoisted the silver chalice. Keith occupied the locker next to Brandon Saad’s in the dressing room the last three years. Fellow defenseman Johnny Oduya always sat across from Keith on team flights. Sharp, in Keith’s words, “is along with Seabs (Brent Seabrook) one of my two best friends in hockey.” All three players became former Hawks thanks to the salary cap, an NHL reality Keith understands more than he accepts.
“Anytime you play with someone for a long time you’re going to develop chemistry, a bond and a friendship and I was really close with those three guys,” Keith said. “Sharpie, I played with for 10 years. It’s tough to say goodbye. They’re all difficult. As hockey players, we’ve been through this before when we know it’s part of the business. But at the same time, it sucks. There’s no other way to put it.”
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has given the Blackhawks an influx of Russians for next season after acquiring center Artem Anisimov in the Brandon Saad trade from the Blue Jackets and signing KHL winger Viktor Tikhonov to a one-year deal.
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has given the Blackhawks an influx of Russians for next season after acquiring center Artem Anisimov in the Brandon Saad trade from the Blue Jackets and signing KHL winger Viktor Tikhonov to a one-year deal. ( Chris Hine and Chris Kuc )
Lamenting the loss of old teammates in no way reflects Keith’s excitement over his new ones. Like a sportscaster reporting the trade, Keith pointed out defenseman Trevor Daley scored 16 goals for the Stars last season. He called forward Ryan Garbutt, who came with Daley in the Sharp deal, “the hardest guy to play against when we played Dallas.”
“He really is a pain so we’re happy to have him on our side now,” Keith said. “Our goal is to win a Stanley Cup every year, and we’re looking forward to bringing the new guys into the fold. Some of the new players we acquired are really going to help.”
The eagerness Keith spoke with belied a 10-year veteran who celebrated his 32nd birthday Thursday. If Keith has drawn closer to the end of his career than the beginning, nobody can tell by the tone of his voice or approach to his work. When reporters asked Keith during the playoffs about making the Hall of Fame or being compared to Bobby Orr, he deflected the praise like so many poke-checks. Keith calls such talk humbling, a byproduct of being “fortunate to be on good teams with great players.” Greatness seldom stops to savor the ride.
“I have worked hard for my success but don’t really look back and rest on my laurels because as soon as you do that, you get passed by,” Keith said. “Time goes by fast. I don’t know if I have a lot of hockey left in me, a lot of good years. You see young guys coming in and it seems like a blink of the eye (ago), I was the young guy. More than anything, it makes you not want to take anything for granted.”
That sentiment applied to the people of Fort Frances, Ontario, who were there when Keith started his journey to hockey immortality. Keith first wore a sweater in 1990 for the Times Tigers in the Fort Frances Minor Hockey Association and lived in the town of 7,952 until he was 14 before his family moved to Penticton, British Columbia. Triumphantly, Keith will bring the Cup to his original hometown for the first time Aug. 1 and renew bonds that still exist from his days playing youth hockey.
“Now when I see those guys it’s just like yesterday we were out in the street playing street hockey or the outdoor rink scoring goals,” Keith said. “That’s what is cool about hockey and the friendships you develop. They last forever.”
The NHL’s leader in stamina knows something about that.
Hockey is a family of sports in which two teams play against each other by trying to maneuver a ball or a puck into the opponent's goal using a hockey stick. In many areas, one sport (typically field hockey or ice hockey is generally referred to simply as hockey.