Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Life after Keane begins

End of an era as hockey legend, Moose part ways

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Hockey is not as good a game today as it was yesterday because Mike Keane no longer plays it.

Mike Keane file

Born: May 29, 1967,

Winnipeg

Stanley Cup wins: 3

 

AHL (regular season)

GP G A Pts

443 61 121 182

AHL (playoffs)

GP G A Pts

74 11 15 26

 

NHL (regular season)

GP G A Pts

1,161 168 302 470

NHL (playoffs)

GP G A Pts

220 34 40 74

Keane and the Manitoba Moose have elected to part ways, and the man who has been captain of the Moose for the past five years and a three-time Stanley Cup champion will officially announce his retirement sometime down the road.

Neither the club nor Keane had any comment Monday, but the Free Press has learned the player will not be back with the Moose for a sixth season.

If you didn't get the chance to catch Keane in action these last couple of years, the window is now closed.

What did you miss? Not much in the flash department but immeasurable amounts in character, smarts and respect.

Keane was from another era. He broke into pro hockey as an undrafted free agent with the Sherbrooke Canadiens way back in 1987, and still played like it.

He checked, he fought, he blocked shots and he made winning his top priority every night. No goals and no assists but a win would get a smile from Keane. Two goals and an assist the night of a loss? You'd get a quote but you might not be able to print it.

Sour would best describe Keane after defeat and he wasn't above letting you know it.

Keane, 43, leaves the game with a legacy few can match. The numbers are staggering: almost 2,000 pro games including playoff appearances over 23 seasons and three Stanley Cups with three different teams.

But Keane is about far more than a bunch of numbers.

Mostly he's about his love of hockey. Keane made a nice living during his NHL days but when the powers that be determined he could no longer cut it at that level, he decided to keep playing.

The old expression, "I'd play for free," isn't entirely apt as the Moose did pay Keane, but at a fraction of what he'd made in the NHL.

He continued to play so his family, and in particular his children, would get a chance to watch him at work.

The kid from River Heights, who got his start playing outdoors at Sir John Franklin Community Club, became a pro against long odds. Keane carved out a career that saw such heights as representing Canada internationally and being named captain of the Montreal Canadiens.

He played junior with the Moose Jaw Warriors and was a member of Team Canada during the infamous Punch Up in Piestany in 1987 when Canada's junior team brawled with the Russians.

Harold Ballard bought and presented gold medals to team members that some considered a disgrace. Keane's still hangs proudly in his home office as does the first pro contract he signed with the Montreal Canadiens.

Keane went undrafted but John Ferguson, who had watched Keane play minor hockey in Winnipeg with his son, John Jr., gave his old friend Serge Savard a call and suggested the Habs take a look at the plucky redhead.

During his first scrimmage at his first training camp, the 18-year-old Keane fought four different players as he made his statement that there was nothing he wouldn't do to be a pro.

It was that will that attracted coaches and teammates. Former Habs coach Pat Burns says of Keane, "one of my favourite players to coach, the ultimate competitor."

Patrick Roy watched Keane break in and then develop as a leader. They sipped from the Stanley Cup as teammates with Montreal in 1993.

A few years later, Roy demanded Keane be part of his trade to the Colorado Avalanche. The two left Montreal in a private jet late one winter night and then rode in a parade in Denver that spring as Stanley Cup champions again.

Keane and his old Canadiens teammate Brian Skrudland were traded at the deadline from the New York Rangers to the Dallas Stars and a Cup would soon follow in Texas.

Said Rangers GM Neil Smith to the two players on the way out: "You don't keep a thoroughbred in the barn, I'm sending you somewhere with a chance to win."

Keane built a reputation as a winner, leader and consummate teammate. And it was deserving.

Want to know the measure of Keane in the hockey world? Not long ago we witnessed a telling scene in the Canadiens alumni lounge at the Bell Centre.

The room is fairly non-descript but comes alive between periods when past players filter in. On this night, legends Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard and Yvan Cournoyer were present along with other former Canadiens like Vincent Damphousse, Claude Lemieux and Petr Svoboda.

Keane quietly moved in with a crew of Winnipeggers he'd brought to watch a playoff game. After taking a spot along the wall with a beer, he began to shake hands with all in attendance. Everyone, and we mean everyone, wanted to say hello to the son of Jack and Mary-Ann Keane. Even Beliveau.

The Roadrunner stopped by and told jokes and kept rubbing Keane's shoulder.

The Pocket Rocket, still boasting a glorious silver mane, smiled at Keane and leaned in a for few quiet words, Habs legend to Habs legend.

"Still playing, Keaner?" so many asked.

"Still fooling them," came Keane's answer again and again.

Walking through the concourse between periods, usher after usherette after hotdog vendor, lit up at the sight of Keane, and more often than not he greeted them by name. Sure, Keane was a hero on the ice playing a role the last time the Habs rode down Rue Ste.-Catherine with the Stanley Cup, but it was more than evident he was special off the ice as well.

Later during that spring night in Montreal, as Keane's cab passed a street person, he rolled down the window and smiled into the night.

"Hi ya, Mike. What are you doing here? Are you coming back?," giggled the tramp. "We sure miss you."

No kidding. So will we.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 20, 2010 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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