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BLOG: Keith's Longevity a Product of Development Path

In his 15th NHL season, Blackhawks blueliner discusses his path to the league in recent Spittin' Chiclets podcast appearance

by Monterey Pepper /

Duncan Keith is a month into his 15th NHL season and the veteran defenseman isn't showing any signs of slowing down. 

After just 11 games, he's well on his way to going 15-for-15 as Chicago's leader in average time on ice for the season, already logging 24:29 per game. The two-way defenseman has always led the way with his dynamic style of play and his 585 points (98G, 487A) rank second Blackhawk defensemen in franchise history. 

His skillset, though, is trademarked by the 6-foot-1 defender's skating style - complete with a certain "hop" that sets him apart from other skaters.

"I was always a small kid so I felt like I had to be quick," Keith explained during an appearance on the Spittin' Chiclets podcast last week. "My dad actually, when he was telling me to skate he'd always say 'Get a hop going,' so I just do it naturally now but if I didn't do the hop when we were on the outdoor rinks, he would always come and point it out and tell me, 'You've got to make sure you're getting the hop going.' I [thought to myself,] 'I don't know what the hop's for but…" 

His rise from the outdoor rinks of Western Canada to a face of the Blackhawks franchise and future Hall of Famer wasn't a quick ascent, though. 

Keith played two season in the BCHL with the Penticton Panthers before playing college hockey at Michigan State. The young defenseman enjoyed the college game, but while the scholarship covered his tuition, being so far from home placed a burden on the Keith family as a whole. Halfway through his sophomore year, the defenseman left Michigan State to move closer to home and play for the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL.

"[Leaving Michigan State] was a tough decision because you're with your teammates and it's midseason and I got really close with some of those guys…but I have an older brother and younger sister and they were in school too, so the money was kind of playing a factor," Keith said, noting the other expenses that his scholarship didn't cover and the difficulty for his family to come watch him play. "(I couldn't pass up) the opportunity to go to Kelowna and play at home, which was 45 minutes away, where (my parents) wouldn't be paying money that they didn't have, racking up credit card bills."

The defenseman played 19 games in Kelowna before signing with the Blackhawks and turning pro in 2003 with Chicago's then-AHL affiliate in Norfolk. His time with the Admirals, he said, paid dividends in developing his pro game and the skills to play in over 1,000 NHL games. 

"It was the perfect situation for me going to the minors as a smaller, skinnier defenseman because I'd always have these coaches telling me to go in there and be physical, play tough and play mean," Keith said. "I can do that, but it's not doing anything. The guy's 30 pounds heavier, I'm just wasting energy. (Head coach Trent Yawney) taught me and brought me aside after practice all the time and would show me about having a good stick and just being containing, good positioning, taking your angles going back for pucks. I felt like that really helped me with a foundation. I was very lucky to have a guy like that." 

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