Longtime Jets 1.0 broadcaster tells his side of the story Keilback sets the record straight in soon-to-be-released memoir

Curt Keilback was in the prime of his professional life, calling NHL games with the usual gusto that made him one of the great listens around the league. And then, his legendary voice was suddenly silenced. Fired by the dysfunctional Coyotes organization in 2007, the Brandon product suddenly found himself on the outside looking in and unable to land another prominent play-by-play job.

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Opinion

Curt Keilback was in the prime of his professional life, calling NHL games with the usual gusto that made him one of the great listens around the league. And then, his legendary voice was suddenly silenced. Fired by the dysfunctional Coyotes organization in 2007, the Brandon product suddenly found himself on the outside looking in and unable to land another prominent play-by-play job.

A decorated career, one that began in Winnipeg in 1979 and eventually took him south to Phoenix, was over with no real explanation short of “we’re going in another direction.”

It was a gut punch of epic proportions.

“The thing about that is you don’t get any chance to defend yourself,” Keilback told me this week of his unexpected exodus from the broadcast booth. “Other than do what I did — write a book. I mean, it’s after the fact. But at least I got the story.”

“The thing about that is you don’t get any chance to defend yourself… Other than do what I did– write a book.” – Curt Keilback

Now, 15 years later , the shock and anger has mostly subsided, replaced by an appreciation of what he got to see and do for nearly three decades. The move from the WHA to NHL and birth of Jets 1.0, with the likes of Hawerchuk and Carlyle and Steen. The incredible Smythe Division battles against Gretzky and Kurri and Fleury and MacInnis. The next generation of Winnipeg stars such as Selanne and Tkachuk and Zhamnov and Housley. The death of Jets 1.0 and the turbulent move down south.

“At the old Winnipeg Arena, I was convinced I had the best seat in the NHL. My vantage point from there was just perfect,” said Keilback, who is a member of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame in the media wing.

Keilback’s got a million tales to tell. And he’s included plenty of them in his new book, Two Minutes For Talking To Myself, which is published by FriesenPress and set to be released later this year. It’s a project he’s been pecking away at for several years and finally completed this summer.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Curt Keilback, the longtime voice of the Winnipeg Jets 1.0, looks back on his career in Two Minutes for Talking to Myself.

“Most of what you’ll read is positive, even funny, but I did grind an axe in one of the later stories. (It was good for my soul),” his introduction reads, in part.

Indeed, Keilback goes into detail about his time with the Coyotes, including what he believes was a personal vendetta by a couple power-hungry executives who sullied his name on the way out the door and essentially blackballed him around the league.

“I was actually at the best time of my career. I was 57, the kids are grown up so they didn’t need me anymore. By that time, all the travel was charter, so it was easiest job in the world. So, yeah, it was a disappointment,” he said.

Lest anyone suggest he’d reached his best-before date, it should be noted Keilback was just one year removed from the most famous call of his career: Alex Ovechkin’s absurd tally, simply known as The Goal in hockey circles, in which he shovelled a puck past Coyotes netminder Brian Boucher while sliding and corkscrewing on the ice. One video of the play with Keilback’s voice has three million hits on YouTube.

“It was just a call at that particular time. I wasn’t particularly proud of it or anything. The call was a little bit different because the goal was a little bit different. But it wasn’t something that I ever thought would be a replay 20 years after,” said Keilback, who grew up idolizing the great Danny Gallivan and practising his own commentary in front of the television. His other mentor was his own father, Jim, who allowed him to call a period of a Saskatchewan Senior Hockey League game when he was just 11.

“I was actually at the best time of my career. I was 57, the kids are grown up so they didn’t need me anymore… So, yeah, it was a disappointment.” – Curt Keilback

Not surprisingly, Keilback doesn’t think much about the current version of the Coyotes, one that is slated to spend at least the next three years playing in a college rink that doesn’t even fit 5,000 fans.

“What’s this thing between (commissioner Gary) Bettman and Phoenix? I don’t understand it,” said Keilback. “I can’t see how there could be a good ending.”

Keilback doesn’t follow the NHL very closely these days, but was thrilled to see the Jets hire Rick Bowness as the new head coach this summer.

“He’s one of the finest people I’ve ever met. And I really hope he does well,” said Keilback. “The funny thing about the Jets is when I was doing them, it always seemed every time that everybody figured that they were gonna be bad, they’d be good. And vice versa. And so right now when things are looking down for different reasons, I mean, who knows. Maybe they’ll pop up.”

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Curt Keilback has got a million tales to tell. And he’s included plenty of them in his new book, Two Minutes For Talking To Myself, which is published by FriesenPress and set to be released later this year.

Keilback is still friends with a few current members of True North, including assistant general manager Craig Heisinger and senior vice president of sales Norva Riddell. But he was disappointed when he was ignored in 2011 when the organization was hiring broadcasters following the move from Atlanta. Dennis Beyak (who retired after this past season) got the television gig, while Brian Munz and Paul Edmonds worked the radio side.

“I think the last thing the organization wanted when they came back was any association with the original Jets. That’s one of the things I wrote in there (that) Mark Chipman didn’t even want them to be called the Jets,” said Keilback. “I think that’s why there hasn’t really been a lot, maybe a little more recently.”

With hockey on the backburner, Keilback focused on other projects including a brief stint selling houses.

“I found as a realtor I made a pretty good plumber,” he jokes. “Now, I’m retired. I mean, I was reluctantly retired for quite a while. But after a while, you begin to realize, ‘Well, I guess this is life now.’ And I mean, I’m 73, so, the days are getting shorter. That’s why it was good to have a new challenge in writing.”

”I’m 73, so, the days are getting shorter. That’s why it was good to have a new challenge in writing.” – Curt Keilback

The book is a collection of anecotes focusing on certain players and events from Keilback’s time. There’s plenty of behind-the-scenes tidbits including plane trips and bus rides, locker-room pranks and hotel shenanigans.

“It was one of those situations where you’re sitting by the campfire at the lake and you start swapping stories and inevitably, somebody would say, ‘You should write a book.’ All of a sudden the winters started to get a bit long, I’m not doing anything but sitting around getting fat, so I started to write them up,” he said.

Paul MacLean, who played seven seasons with the Jets, wrote the foreword.

“The time he has been involved with the Winnipeg Jets through to the days in Phoenix gives him the perspective that no one else has. Curt was involved with owners, general managers, business executives, coaches, equipment, medical staff, and the players. He knew these people on a daily basis and learned about them all,” said MacLean.

“The time he has been involved with the Winnipeg Jets through to the days in Phoenix gives him the perspective that no one else has.” – Paul MacLean

Keilback’s broadcasting career may have ended sooner than he wanted, but he has no regrets. Now, he’s excited to bring his voice back to life through the written word. A specific launch date for his book has not yet been set, but it’s expected to be within the next month. It will be available at all major booksellers.

“I told my wife this is going to be interesting. Because it’s a new field for me,” said Keilback, who found he wasn’t nearly as comfortable behind a laptop as he was in front of a microphone. “You know, I’m a little bit nervous about it, actually. How this is going to be received.”

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Curt Keilback doesn’t follow the NHL very closely these days, but was thrilled to see the Jets hire Rick Bowness as the new head coach this summer.

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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