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Duncan Keith: An Unwavering Will to Win

By Chris Kuc

D

uncan Keith strolled into the Blackhawks' dressing room and sat down not far from where his son, Colton, was fielding questions from Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat about the 6-year-old's social life.
 

With a smile, Keith watched as his son bantered with dad's teammates, a scene quite the contrast from early on in the defenseman's career when life was all about hanging out and playing hockey with the guys.
 

Life has changed in many ways since Keith first entered a Blackhawks dressing room some 17 years ago, but his desire to continue to play at a high level and help his team win games while enjoying the ride has never wavered.
 

"All of a sudden the years have piled up pretty quick here in Chicago," Keith said. "It goes by fast. You have to enjoy it every time."
 

Keith just completed his 17th training camp and has begun his 15th NHL season and at the age of 36 is determined to get the Blackhawks back into being contenders for the Stanley Cup.
 

While the Blackhawks' dressing room is filled with players who hate to lose, those who have been around a while will tell you that it is Keith who takes defeats harder than most everyone.
 

So imagine what the past two seasons of failing to reach the playoffs - coming on the heels of capturing three Stanley Cups in six seasons - have done for a guy who can't stand losing.
 

"It's tough," Keith said. "You start out your career on a team that isn't having success and you're able to turn it around and really work and you see it come together and then all of a sudden it's like it's coming full circle where the team is struggling.
 

"You're an older guy now and you've seen what it's like to be good and bad but at the same time it's part of being professional and also just kind of being mature about the situation and realize it's tough to win the Stanley Cup every year."

Cynics will look at the basic statistics and point out that Keith's numbers the last two seasons haven't matched up to the ones when he was winning the Norris Trophy in 2010 and '14, but one thing that has never wavered is Keith's desire.
 

"I think that competitive drive to be great has always been there," longtime teammate Brent Seabrook said. "If you look at him now, he's in as good a shape as he's ever been. You watch 'Dunc' play and how he carries himself and handles himself, I think he's one of those guys who is just amazing professionally. He does what he needs to do to be ready for the games. He still loves the game, which is important, and he has fun doing it."
 

Count coach Jeremy Colliton in as a believer in Keith's competitive nature.
 

"He's had a tremendous career and it didn't happen for him right away," Colliton said. "He's a great pro and a great example - just with his compete level. That's the biggest thing that sticks out to me. He's extremely competitive. That mentality, it's going to rub off on you."
 

It is a mentality and a passion to be the best that Keith has maintained from a young age.
 

"Working hard and competing is just something I enjoy doing," Keith said. "I live like that, basically. I try to live a life where I'm kind of pushing myself to stay in shape and try to get better all the time. If you're not getting better … you're getting worse. I think it's important not to have a finish line in your head. When you have a finish line in your head and you reach something that's maybe when you take a breath and things shut down. I try to look at it as a way of life and just competing and working as hard as I can no matter the situation.
 

"That's not to say that there aren't times where you feel like you need a break, mental or physical just to get away," Keith continued. "I have several years left on my contract that I intend to play. I still love it and still enjoy it. I do get frustrated and get angry at certain points but overall this is what I like to do."

Even in his 15th season, Keith continues to learn and he has had to adapt to a different NHL. There was a time that Keith could use his blazing speed to overcome a missed assignment or to cover for a teammate caught out of position. Nowadays, it's all about being in the right place at the right time.
 

"I think the league has changed so much in the sense that you really have to be in good positioning as a defenseman," Keith said. "Everybody has speed. It used to be maybe a couple of guys on a team were faster than other guys but now it's the whole team. So, you have to adjust and you have to be smart. The parity around the league has allowed every team to be good so every game is hard. It's easier when you're on a team that is having success and you are winning and you have that confidence and it's the opposite when you're on the other end of the spectrum and you're kind of struggling and you're trying to find your identity as a team and scratching and clawing for every win.
 

"I try to adjust within the team," he added. "Right now, I think my job is to try to be as good as I can defensively and help the younger guys, especially the younger defensemen, gain confidence and teach them what I can. I also need to be at my best and be good defensively and try to push the pace offensively."
 

Being a mentor to some of the Blackhawks' young defenseman has been an adjustment that Keith has embraced, whether it was with prized prospect Adam Boqvist during training camp or currently as the blue line partner to Erik Gustafsson.
 

"(Keith) is the greatest guy I've met," Gustafsson said. "Ever since I came over here he's helped me. He's been tough on me and that helped my career. He's just a great guy in the locker room and on the ice. He can speak up when he needs to and he's always there if you need help. Just a great guy."
 

Gustafsson is such a fan of his defense partner that as a teenager playing video games in Sweden, the now-27-year-old made sure Keith was on whichever team he controlled. Now, he has a first-hand look at how Keith operates.
 

"It's pretty huge to have him as a D partner," Gustafsson said. "He's helped me with the defensive part and how I'm supposed to play with the puck. We talk a lot - on the ice and on the bench. You can hear him if I do anything he doesn't like or if I make a bad play. I told him to be hard on me so he's helped me with that. He's told me, 'When you see a play, pass it as fast as you can and join the rush.'"
 

Keith also provides an example of how to be a professional off the ice.
 

"He takes care of his body to be ready for the season and every time you come into the locker room you see he's always working on something," Gustafsson said. "Duncan is one guy who always comes in and is ready to go 100 percent. You can see in his eyes that he wants to win again. He's not done. He wants a fourth ring."
 

Helping in that quest is Keith's son, who was born during the Blackhawks' run to the Cup in '13. Colton provides a welcome distraction during seasons that inevitably turn into a grind.
 

"It's nice to have a bit of a balance off the ice when you can kind of get away from it by playing GI Joes," Keith said. "You go into that mindset and it puts a lot of things in perspective. It's good-I think it refreshes you when you come back to the rink.
 

"He's basically changed my life," Keith added. "I've matured a lot as a guy off the ice since he was born. It's interesting to think about those types of things and how it plays a part in who you are as a person and a player."